'Damn nice of us.' Mr Midnight's nerves had now recovered.

'Any more questions?' Goldfinger's voice was bland. He had read out the figures, estimated the prospects for the business. Now it was time to put the meeting to the vote. 'Details remain to be worked out exactly. In that, my staff here' - he turned first to Bond and then to Miss Masterton -'will be assisting me. This room will be our operations room to which you will all have access by day or by night. The code word for the project is “Operation Grand Slam”, which will always be used in referring to the project. May I suggest that those of you who wish to participate should brief one, and only one, of your most trusted lieutenants. Other staff can be trained for their functions as if this were a run-of-the-mill bank robbery. On D-l a slightly wider briefing of staff will be necessary. I know I can rely on you, gentlemen and madam, if you decide to participate, to treat this whole project as an operation of war. Inefficiency or insecurity will of course have to be dealt with decisively. And now, gentlemen and madam, I will ask yOu to reply on behalf of your respective organizations. Which of you wishes to enter this race? The prize is gigantic. The risks are minimal. Mr Midnight?' Goldfinger turned his head an inch to die right. Bond saw the wide open X-ray gaze devour his neighbour. 'Yes?' There was a pause. 'Or no?'



'MR GOLD,' Jed Midnight pronounced sonorously, 'you are undoubtedly the greatest thing in crime since Cain invented murder and used it on Abel.' He paused and added emphatically, 'I shall count it an honour to be associated with you in this enterprise.'

"Thank you, Mr Midnight. And you, Mr Ring?' Bond was doubtful about Mr Billy Ring. He had scrawled plusses against all the names except Ring and Helmut Springer. To Mr Ring he had allotted a nought, to Springer a minus sign. He had come to his conclusions by watching eyes, mouths, hands, but nothing had been betrayed by The Grinner's unwavering false smile. The wink in his right eye had been as steady on the pulse-beat as a metronome and he had kept his hands below the table.

Now Billy Ring brought his hands up from below the table and formed a cat's cradle with them on the green baize in front of him. For a moment he watched the two thumbs twirling, then he raised his nightmare face to Goldfinger's. The tic in his right eye had stopped. The two rows of teeth began to operate like a ventriloquist's dummy. 'Mister1 - he found difficulty with his b's, m's and p's and produced them by bringing his upper lip down over his teeth like a horse does when it takes sugar out of your hand - 'long time now my friends and I been back in legal. What I mean, the old days of leaving corpses strewn all over the landscape went out with the 'forties. Me and my associates, we do all right with the girls, the hemp, and the racetrack, and when we're short there's our good friends the Union to slip us the odd fin. Ya see, mister' - The Grinner opened his hands and then put them back into the cradle - 'we figger the old days are gone. Big Jim Colossimo, Johnny Torrio, Dion O'Bannion, Al Capone - where are those guys today, huh? Mister, they're pushing up the morning glory by the fence. Mebbe you weren't around in the days when we used to hide up between fights in Little Bohemia up behind Milwaukee? Well, siree, in those days, people were shooting at each other so fast you'd often need a programme to tell the act from the spectators. So all right, people got tired of it - those that hadn't already got tired to death, if you get my meaning -and when the 'fifties come along and I take over the team, it's unanimous that we get out of the fireworks business. And now what, mister? Now you come along and put it to me that me and my friends assist you to let off the biggest fizzbang in history! So what do I figger to say to your proposition, Mister-er - Whoosis? Well, I tell you, mister. Everybody's got his price, see? - and for a billion dollars it's a deal. We'll put away the marbles and bring out the sling-shots. We're in.'

'Grinner, you sure take one hell of a long time to say yes,' commented Mr Midnight sourly.

Goldfinger said cordially, 'Thank you for your most interesting statement, Mr Ring. I am very happy to welcome you and your associates. Mr Solo?'

Mr Solo prefaced his reply by reaching into his coat pocket and taking out a battery shaver. He switched it on. The room filled with the noise of angry bees. Mr Solo leant his head back and began running the machine thoughtfully up the right side of his face while his uptilted eyes sought decision in the ceiling. Suddenly he switched the razor off, put it down on the table in front of him and jerked his head down and forward like a snake striking. The black gun-muzzles of his eyes pointed threateningly across the table at Goldfinger and moved slowly from feature to feature of the big moon-face. Half Mr Solo's own face now looked naked. The other half was dark with the Italian swarthiness that comes from an uncontrollable beard growth. Bond guessed that he probably had to shave every three or four hours. Now Mr Solo decided to speak. He spoke in a voice that brought chill into" the room. He said softly, 'Mister, I been watching you. You are a very relaxed man for someone who speaks such big things. Last man I knew was so much relaxed he got himself totally relaxed by a quick burst of the chopper. Okay, okay.' Mr Solo sat back. He spread open palms in reluctant surrender. 'So I come in, yes. But mister' - there was a pause for emphasis - 'either we get that billion or you get dead. Is okay with you?'

Goldfinger's lips bent ironically. 'Thank you, Mr Solo. Your conditions are quite acceptable. I have every wish to stay alive. Mr Helmut Springer?'

Mr Springer's eyes looked deader than ever. He said pompously, 'I am still giving the matter my full consideration. Pray consult my colleagues while I deliberate.'

Mr Midnight commented impatiently, 'Same old Hell. Waits for what he calls inspiration. He's guided - messages from the Almighty on the angels' wavelength. I guess he hasn't heard a human voice in twenty years.'

'And Mr Strap?'

Mr Jack Strap crinkled his eyes at Goldfinger. He said smoothly, 'Mister, I figure you know the odds and you surely pay the best since one of our machines at Vegas got the trots and gave continuous jackpots. I guess if we provide the muscles and the guns this caper'll pay off. You can count me in.' Mr Strap turned off the charm. His eyes, now frightening again, turned, with Goldfinger's, to Miss Pussy Galore.

Miss Galore veiled her violet eyes so as not to have to look at either of them. She said indifferently to the room at large, 'Business ain't been so brisk in my corner of the woods.' She tapped with long, silver-painted finger-nails on the gold bar before her. 'Mind you, I won't say I'm overdrawn at the bank. Let's put it I'm just a shade under-deposited. Yup. Sure I'll come in. Me and my gals got to eat.'

Goldfinger allowed himself a half-smile of sympathy. 'That is excellent news, Miss Galore. And now,' he turned to face across the table, 'Mr Springer, might we ask if you have made up your mind?'

Slowly Mr Springer rose to his feet. He gave the controlled yawn of an opera goer. He followed the yawn with a small belch. He took out a fine linen handkerchief and patted his lips. His glazed eyes moved round the table and finally rested on Goldfinger. Slowly his head moved from side to side as if he was trying to exercise fibrositis in his neck muscles. He said gravely, like a bank manager refusing a loan, 'Mr Gold, I fear your proposal would not find favour with my colleagues in Detroit.' He gave a little bow which included everyone. 'It only remains for me to thank you for a most interesting occasion. Good afternoon, gentlemen and madam.' In the chilly silence, Mr Springer tucked his handkerchief carefully into the left-hand cuff of his immaculate pin-stripe, turned and walked softly to the door and let himself out.

The door closed with a sharp click. Bond noticed Gold finger's hand slip casually below the table. He guessed that Oddjob was getting his signal. Signal for what?

Mr Midnight said nastily, 'Glad he's out. He's strictly a four-ulcer man. Now then' - he got up briskly and turned to Bond - 'how about a little drink?'

They all rose and gathered round the buffet. Bond found himself between Miss Pussy Galore and Tilly Masterton. He offered them champagne. Miss Galore looked at him coldly and said, 'Move over, Handsome. Us girls want to talk secrets. Don't we, yummy?' Miss Masterton blushed and then turned very pale. She whispered adoringly, 'Oh yes please, Miss Galore.'

Bond smiled sourly at Tilly Masterton and moved down the room.

Jed Midnight had witnessed the snub. He got close to Bond and said earnestly, 'Mister, if that's your doll, you better watch her. Pussy gets the girls she wants. She consumes them in bunches - like grapes, if you follow me.' Mr Midnight sighed wearily. 'Cheesus how they bore me, the lizzies! You'll see, she'll soon have that frail parting her hair three ways in front of the mirror.'

Bond said cheerfully, 'I'll watch out. There's nothing much I can do. She's an independent sort of a girl.'

'That so?' said Mr Midnight with a spark of interest. 'Well mebbe I can help to break it up.' He straightened his tie. 'I could go for that Masterton. She's sure got natural resources. See you around." He grinned at Bond and moved off down the room.

Bond was having a quiet square meal off caviar and champagne and thinking how well Goldfinger had handled the meeting when the door at the end of the room opened and one of the Koreans hurried in and went up to Goldfinger. Goldfinger bent his head to the whispered words. His face became grave. He rapped a fork on his glass of Saratoga Vichy.

'Gentlemen and madam.' He looked sadly round the group. 'I have received bad news. Our friend Mr Helmut Springer has met with an accident. He fell down the stairs. Death was instantaneous.'

'Ho, ho!' Mr Ring's laugh was not a laugh. It was a hole in the face. 'And what does that Slappy Hapgood, his torpedo, have to say about it?'

Goldfinger said gravely, 'Alas, Mr Hapgood also fell down the stairs and has succumbed to his injuries.'

Mr Solo looked at Goldfinger with new respect. He said softly, 'Mister, you better get those stairs fixed before me and my friend Giulio come.to use them.'

Goldfinger said seriously, 'The fault has been located. Repairs will be put in hand at once.' His face grew thoughtful. 'I fear these accidents may be misconstrued in Detroit.'

Jed Midnight said cheerfully, 'Don't give it a thought, mister. They love funerals up there. And it'll take a load off their minds. Old Hell wouldn't have lasted much longer. They been stoking the fires under him these twelve months.' He appealed to Mr Strap who stood next to him. 'Am I right, Jacko?'

'Sure, Jed,' said Mr Strap sagely. 'You got the score. Mr Helmut M. Springer had to be hit.'

'Hit' - mobese for murder. When Bond at last got to bed that night, he couldn't wipe the word out of his mind. Oddjob had got the signal, a double ring,-and Springer and his guard had got hit. There had been nothing Bond could have done about it - even if he had wanted to, and Mr Helmut Springer meant nothing to him, probably richly deserved to be hit anyway - but now some 59,998 other people were going to get hit unless he, and only he, could do something about it.

When the meeting of paramount hoods had broken up to go about their various duties, Goldfinger had dismissed the girl and kept Bond in the room. He told Bond to take notes and then for more than two hours went over the operation down to the smallest detail. When they came to the doping of the two reservoirs (Bond had to work out an exact timetable to ensure that the people of Fort Knox would all be 'under" in good time) Bond had asked for details of the drug and its speed of action.