“Next I am wishing to know what is the policy of The Group in the matter of cane sabotage. At our meeting six months ago in Havana, against my minority vote, it was decided, in exchange for certain favours, to come to the aid of Fidel Castro and assist in maintaining and indeed increasing the world price of sugar to offset the damage caused by Hurricane Flora. Since this time there have been very numerous fires in the cane fields of Jamaica and Trinidad. In this connection, it has come to the ears of my superiors that individual members of The Group, notably”-- there was the rustle of paper--“Messrs. Gengerella, Rot-kopf, and Binion, in addition to our chairman, have engaged in extensive purchasing of July sugar futures for the benefit of private gain. . . .”

There came an angry murmur from round the table. “Why shouldn't we . . . ? Why shouldn't they . . . ?” The voice of Gengerella dominated the others. He shouted, “Who in hell said we weren't to make money? Isn't that one of the objects of The Group? I ask you again, Mr. Hendriks, as I asked you six months ago, who in hell is it among your so-called superiors who wants to keep the price of raw sugar down? For my money, the most interested party in such a gambit would be Soviet Russia. They're selling goods to Cuba, including, let me say, the recently abortive shipment of missiles to fire against my country, in exchange for raw sugar. They're sharp traders, the Reds. In their doubledealing way, even from a friend and ally, they would want more sugar for fewer goods. Yes? I suppose,” the voice sneered, “one of your superiors, Mr. Hendriks, would not by any chance be in the Kremlin?”

The voice of Scaramanga cut through the ensuing hubbub. “Hey you guys, cut it out!” A reluctant silence fell. “When we formed this cooperative, it was agreed that the first object was to cooperate with one another. Okay, then. Mr. Hendriks. Let me put you more fully in the picture. So far as the total finances of The Group are concerned, we have a fine situation coming up. As an investment group, we have good bets and bad bets. Sugar is a good bet, and we should ride that bet even though certain members of The Group have chosen not to be on the horse. Get me? Now hear me through. There are six ships controlled by The Group at this moment riding at anchor outside New York and other U.S. harbours. These ships are loaded with raw sugar. These ships, Mr. Hendriks, will not dock and unload until sugar futures, July futures, have risen another ten cents. In Washington, the Department of Agriculture and the sugar lobby know this. They know that we have them by the balls. Meantimes the liquor lobby is leaning on them--let alone Russia. The price of molasses is going up with sugar, and the rum barons are kicking up hell and want our ships let in before there's a real shortage and the price goes through the roof. But there's another side to it. We're having to pay our crews and our charter bills and so on, and squatting ships are dead ships, dead losses. So something's going to give. In the business, the situation we've developed is called the floating crop game--our ships lying offshore, lined up against the Government of the United States. All right. So now four of us stand to win or lose ten million bucks or so--us and our backers. And we've got this little business of the Thunderbird on the red side of the sheet. So what do you think, Mr. Hendriks? Of course we burn the crops where we can get away with it. I got a good in with the Rastafaris--that's a beat sect here that grows beards and smokes ganja and mostly lives on a bit of land outside Kingston called the Dungle, the Dunghill, and believes it owes allegiance to the King of Ethiopia, this King Zog or what-have-you, and that that's their rightful home. So I've got a man in there, a man who wants the ganja for them, and I keep him supplied in exchange for plenty fires and troubles on the cane lands. So all right, Mr. Hendriks. You just tell your superiors that what goes up must come down and that applies to the price of sugar like anything else. Okay?”

Mr. Hendriks said, “I will pass on your saying, Mr. Scaramanga. It will not cause pleasure. Now there is this business of the hotel. How is she standing, if you pliss? I think we are all wishing to know the true situation, isn't it?”

There was a growl of assent.

Scaramanga went off into a long dissertation which was only of passing interest to Bond. Felix Leiter would in any case be getting it all on the tape in a drawer of his filing cabinet. He had reassured Bond on this score. The neat American, Leiter had explained, filling him in with the essentials, was in fact a certain Mr. Nick Nicholson of the C.I.A. His particular concern was Mr. Hendriks, who, as Bond had suspected, was a top man of the K.G.B. The K.G.B. favours oblique control--a man in Geneva being the Resident Director for Italy, for instance--and Mr. Hendriks at The Hague was in fact Resident Director for the Caribbean and in charge of the Havana centre. Leiter was still working for Pinkerton's, but was also on the reserve of the C.I.A., who had drafted him for this particular assignment because of his knowledge, gained in the past mostly with James Bond, of Jamaica. His job was to get a breakdown of The Group and find out what they were up to. They were all well-known hoods who would normally have been the concern of the F.B.I., but Gengerella was a capo Mafioso and this was the first time the Mafia had been found consorting with the K.G.B.--a most disturbing partnership which must at all costs be quickly broken up, by physical elimination if need be. Nick Nicholson, whose “front” name was Stanley Jones, was an electronics expert. He had traced the main lead to Scaramanga's recording device under the floor of the central switch room and had bled off the microphone cable to his own tape recorder in the filing cabinet. So Bond had not much to worry about. He was listening to satisfy his own curiosity and to fill in on anything that might transpire in the lobby or out of range of the bug in the telephone on the conference room table. Bond had explained his own presence. Leiter had given a long low whistle of respectful apprehension. Bond had agreed to keep well clear of the other two men and to paddle his own canoe, but they had arranged an emergency meeting place and a postal “drop” in the uncompleted and OUT OF ORDER men's room off the lobby. Nicholson had given him a passkey for this place and all other rooms, and then Bond had had to hurry off to his meeting. James Bond was immensely reassured by finding these unexpected reinforcements. He had worked with Leiter on some of his most hazardous assignments. There was no man like him when the chips were down. Although Leiter had only a steel hook instead of a right arm--a memento of one of those assignments--he was one of the finest lefthanded one-armed shots in the States and the hook itself could be a devastating weapon at close quarters.

Scaramanga was finishing his exposition. “So the net of it is, gentlemen, that we need to find ten million bucks. The interests I represent, which are the majority interests, suggest that this sum should be provided by a note issue, bearing interest at ten percent and repayable in ten years, such an issue to have priority over all other loans.”

The voice of Mr. Rotkopf broke in angrily. “The hell it will! Not on your life, mister. What about the seven percent second mortgage put up by me and my friends only a year back? What do you think I'd get if I went back to Vegas with that kind of parley? The old heave-ho! Arid at that I'm being optimistic.”

“Beggars can't be choosers, Ruby. It's that or close. What have you other fellows got to say?”

Hendriks said, “Ten percent on a first charge is good pizzness. My friends and I will take one million dollars. On the understanding, it is natural, that the conditions of the issue are, how shall I say, more substantial, less open to misunderstandings, than the second mortgage of Mr. Rotkopf and his friends.”

“Of course. And I and my friends will also take a million. Sam?”

Mr. Binion said reluctantly, “Okay, okay. Count us in for the same. But by golly this has got to be the last touch.”

“Mr. Gengerella?”

“It sounds a good bet. I'll take the rest.”

The voices of Mr. Garfinkel and Mr. Paradise broke in excitedly, Garfinkel in the lead. “Like hell you will! I'm taking a million.”

“And so am I,” shouted Mr. Paradise. “Cut the cake equally. But dammit. Let's be fair to Ruby. Ruby, you oughta have first pick. How much do you want? You can have it off the top.”

“I don't want a damned cent of your phoney notes. As soon as I get back, I'm going to reach for the best damned lawyers in the States--all of them. You think you can scrub a mortgage just by saying so, you've all got another think coming.”

There was silence. The voice of Scaramanga was soft and deadly. “You're making a big mistake, Ruby. You've just got yourself a nice fat tax loss to put against your Vegas interests. And don't forget that when we formed this Group, we all took an oath. None of us was to operate against the interests of the others. Is that your last word?”

“It damn well is.”

“Would this help you change your mind? They've got a slogan for it in Cuba--Rapido! Seguro! Economica! This is how the system operates.”

The scream of terror and the explosion were simultaneous. A chair crashed to the floor and there was a moment's silence. Then someone coughed nervously. Mr. Gengerella said calmly, “I think that was the correct solution of an embarrassing conflict of interests. Ruby's friends in Vegas like a quiet life. I doubt if they will even complain. It is better to be a live owner of some finely engraved paper than to be a dead holder of a second mortgage. Put them in for a million, Pistol. I think you behaved with speed and correctness. Now then, can you clean this up?”

“Sure, sure.” Scaramanga's voice was relaxed, happy. “Ruby's left here to go back to Vegas. Never heard of again. We don't know nuthin'. I've got some hungry crocs out back there in the river. They'll give him free transportation to where he's going--and his baggage if it's good leather. I shall need some help tonight. What about you, Sam? And you, Louie?”

The voice of Mr. Paradise pleaded. “Count me out, Pistol. I'm a good Catholic.”

Mr. Hendriks said, “I will take his place. I am not a Catholic person.”

“So it be then. Well, fellers, any other business? If not, we'll break up the meeting and have a drink.”

Hal Garfinkel said nervously, “Just a minute, Pistol. What about that guy outside the door? That limey feller? What's he going to say about the fireworks and all?”

Scaramanga's chuckle was like the dry chuckle of a gekko. “Just don't you worry your liny head about the limey, Hal. He'll be looked after when the weekend's over. Picked him up in a bordello in a village nearby. Place where I go get my weed and a bit of local tail. Got only temporary staff here to see you fellers have a good tune over the weekend. He's the temporariest of the lot. Those crocs have a big appetite. Ruby'll be the main dish, but they'll need a dessert. Just you leave him to me. For all I know he may be this James Bond man Mr. Hendriks has told us about. I should worry. I don't like limeys. Like some good Yankee once said, 'For every Britisher that dies, there's a song in my heart.' Remember the guy? Around the time of the Israeli war against them. I dig that viewpoint. Stuck-up bastards. Stuffed shirts. When the time comes, I'm going to let the stuffing out of this one. Just you leave him to me. Or let's just say leave him to this.”