Scaramanga, with a flick of his wrist, tossed the knife into the air. The sliver of steel spun like a wheel in the sunshine. Bond had to step aside. The knife pierced the mud where Bond had been standing and stood upright. Scaramanga gave a harsh laugh. The laugh turned into a cough. The gaunt face contorted painfully. Too painfully? Scaramanga spat red, but not all that red. There could be only slight haemorrhage. Perhaps a broken rib or two. Scaramanga could be out of hospital in a couple of weeks. Scaramanga put down his piece of snake and did exactly as Bond had told him, all the while watching Bond's face with his usual cold, arrogant stare. He finished and picked up the piece of snake and began gnawing it. He looked up. “Satisfied?”

“Sufficiently.” Bond squatted down on his heels. He held his gun loosely, aiming somewhere halfway between the two of them. “Now then, let's talk. Afraid you haven't got too much time, Scaramanga. This is the end of the road. You've killed too many of my friends. I have the licence to kill you and I am going to kill you. But I'll make it quick. Not like Margesson. Remember him? You put a shot through both of his knees and both of his elbows. Then you made him crawl and kiss your boots. You were foolish enough to boast about it to your friends in Cuba . It got back to us. As a matter of interest, how many men have you killed in your life?”

“With you, it'll make the round fifty.” Scaramanga had gnawed the last segment of backbone clean. He tossed it towards Bond. “Eat that, scum, and get on with your business. You won't get any secrets out of me, if that's the pitch. And don't forget. I've been shot at by experts and I'm still alive. Maybe not precisely kicking, but I've never heard of a limey who'd shoot a defenceless man who's badly wounded. They haven't got the guts. We'll just sit here, chewing the fat, until the rescue team comes. Then I'll be glad to go for trial. What'll they get me for, eh?”

“Well, just for a start, there's that nice Mr. Rotkopf with one of your famous silver bullets in his head in the river back of the hotel.”

“That'll match with the nice Mr. Hendriks with one of your bullets somewhere behind his face. Maybe we'll serve a bit of time together. That'd be nice, wouldn't it? They say the jail at Spanish Town has all the comforts. How about it, limey? That's where you'll be found with a shiv in your back in the sack-sewing department. And by the same token, how d'you know about Rotkopf?”

“Your bug was bugged. Seems you're a bit accident-prone these days, Scaramanga. You hired the wrong security men. Both your managers were from the C.I.A. The tape'll be on the way to Washington by now. That's got the murder of Ross on it too. See what I mean? You've got it coming from every which way.”

“Tape isn't evidence in an American court. But I see what you mean, shamus. Mistakes seem to have got made. So okay,”--Scaramanga made an expansive gesture of the right hand--“take a million bucks and call it quits?”

“I was offered three million on the train.”

“I'll double that.”

“No. Sorry.” Bond got to his feet. The left hand behind his back was clenched with the horror of what he was about to do. He forced himself to think of what the broken body of Margesson must have looked like, of the others that this man had killed, of the ones he would kill afresh if Bond weakened. This man was probably the most efficient one-man death-dealer in the world. James Bond had him. He had been instructed to take him. He must take him-- lying down wounded or in any other position. Bond assumed casualness, tried to make himself the enemy's cold equal. “Any messages for anyone, Scaramanga? Any instructions? Anyone you want looking after? I'll take care of it if it's personal. I'll keep it to myself.”

Scaramanga laughed his harsh laugh, but carefully. This tune the laugh didn't turn into the red cough. “Quite the little English gentleman! Just like I spelled it out. S'pose you wouldn't like to hand me your gun and leave me to myself for five minutes like in the books? Well, you're right, boyo! I'd crawl after you and blast the back of your head off.” The eyes still bored into Bond's with the arrogant superiority, the cold superman quality that had made him the greatest pro gunman in the world--no drinks, no drugs--the impersonal trigger man who killed for money and, by the way he sometimes did it, for the kicks.

Bond examined him carefully. How could Scaramanga fail to break when he was going to die in minutes? Was there some last trick the man was going to spring? Some hidden weapon? But the man just lay there, apparently relaxed, propped up against the mangrove roots, his chest heaving rhythmicallv, the granite of his face not crumbling

even minutely in defeat. On his forehead there was not as much sweat as there was on Bond's. Scaramanga lay in dappled black shadow. For ten minutes James Bond had stood in the middle of the clearing in blazing sunshine. Suddenly he felt the vitality oozing out through his feet into the black mud. And his resolve was going with it. He said, and he heard his voice ring out harshly, “All right, Scaramanga, this is it.” He lifted his gun and held it in the two-handed grip of the target man. “I'm going to make it as quick as I can.”

Scaramanga held up a hand. For the first time his face showed emotion. “Okay, fella.” The voice, amazingly, supplicated. “I'm a Catholic, see? Just let me say my last prayer. Okay? Won't take long, then you can blaze away. Every man's got to die sometime. You're a fine guy as guys go. It's the luck of the game. If my bullet had been an inch maybe two inches, to the right, it'd be you that's dead in place of me. Right? Can I say my prayer, mister?”

James Bond lowered his gun. He would give the man a few minutes. He knew he couldn't give him more. Pain and heat and exhaustion and thirst. It wouldn't be long before he lay down himself, right there on the hard cracked mud, just to rest. If someone wanted to kill him, they could. He said, and the words came out slowly, tiredly, “Go ahead, Scaramanga. One minute only.”

“Thanks, pal.” Scaramanga's hands went up to his face and covered his eyes. There came a drone of Lathi which went on and on. Bond stood there in the sunshine, his gun lowered, watching Scaramanga, but at the same tune not watching him, the edge of his focus dulled by the pain and the heat and the hypnotic litany that came from behind the shuttered face and the horror of what Bond was going to have to do--in one minute, perhaps two.

The fingers of Scaramanga's right hand crawled imperceptibly sideways across his face, inch by inch, centimetre by centimetre. They got to his ear and stopped. The drone of the Lathi prayer never altered its slow, lulling tempo.

And then the hand leaped behind the head and the tiny golden Derringer roared, and James Bond spun round as if he had taken a right to the jaw and crashed to the ground.

At once Scaramanga was on his feet and moving forward like a swift cat. He snatched up the discarded knife and held it forward like a tongue of silver flame.

But James Bond twisted like a dying animal on the ground and the iron in his hand cracked viciously again and again--five times--and then fell out of his hand onto the black earth as his gun hand went to the right side of his belly and stayed there, clutching at the terrible pain.

The big man stood for a moment and looked up at the deep blue sky. His fingers opened in a spasm and let go the knife. His pierced heart stuttered and limped and stopped. He crashed flat back and lay, his arms flung wide, as if someone had thrown him away.

After a while, the land crabs came out of their holes and began nosing at the scraps of the snake. The bigger offal could wait until the night.

16 The Wrapup

The extremely smart policeman from the wrecking squad on the railway came down the riverbank at the normal, dignified gait of a Jamaican constable on his beat. No Jamaican policeman ever breaks into a run. He has been taught that this lacks authority. Felix Leiter, now put under with morphine by the doctor, had said that a good man was after a bad man in the swamp and that there might be shooting. Felix Leiter wasn't more explicit than that, but when he said he was from the F.B.I.--a legitimate euphemism--in Washington, the policeman tried to get some of the wrecking squad to come with him and when he failed, sauntered cautiously off on his own, his baton swinging with assumed jauntiness.

The boom of the guns and the explosion of screeching marsh birds gave him an approximate fix. He had been born not far away, at Negril, and as a boy he had often used his gins and his slingshot in these marshes. They held no fears for him. When he came to the approximate point on the riverbank, he turned left into the mangrove, and conscious that his black-and-blue uniform was desperately conspicuous, stalked cautiously from clump to clump into the morass. He was protected by nothing but his nightstick and the knowledge that to kill a policeman was a capital offence without the option. He only hoped that the good man and the bad man knew this too.

With all the birds gone, there was dead silence. The constable noticed that the tracks of bush rats and other small animals were running past him on a course that converged with his target area. Then he heard the rattling scuttle of the crabs, and in a moment, from behind a thick mangrove clump, he saw the glint of Scaramanga's shirt. He watched and listened. There was no movement and no sound. He strolled, with dignity, into the middle of the clearing, looked at the two bodies and the guns, and took out his nickel police whistle and blew three long blasts. Then he sat down in the shade of a bush, took out his report pad, licked his pencil, and began writing in a laborious hand.

A week later, James Bond regained consciousness. He was in a green-shaded room. He was under water. The slowly revolving fan in the ceiling was the screw of a ship that was about to run him down. He swam for his life. But it was no good. He was tied down, anchored to the bottom of the sea. He screamed at the top of his lungs. To the nurse at the end of the bed it was the whisper of a moan. At once she was beside him. She put a cool hand on his forehead. While she took his pulse, James Bond looked up at her with unfocused eyes. So this was what a mermaid looked like! He muttered “You're pretty,” and gratefully swam back down into her arms.

The nurse wrote ninety-five on his sheet and telephoned down to the ward sister. She looked in the dim mirror and tidied her hair in preparation for the R.M.O. in charge of this apparently Very Important Patient.

The Resident Medical Officer, a young Jamaican graduate from Edinburgh , arrived with the matron, a kindly dragon on loan from King Edward VII's. He heard the nurse's report. He went over to the bed and gently lifted Bond's eyelids. He slipped a thermometer under Bond's armpit and held Bond's pulse in one hand and a pocket chronometer in the other, and there was silence in the little room. Outside, the traffic tore up and down a Kingston road.

The doctor released Bond's pulse and slipped the chronometer back into the trouser pocket under the white smock. He wrote figures on the chart. The nurse held the door open, and the three people went out into the corridor. The doctor talked to the matron. The nurse was allowed to listen. “He's going to be all right. Temperature well down. Pulse a little fast, but that may have been the result of his waking. Reduce the antibiotics. I'll talk to the floor sister about that later. Keep on with the intravenous feeding. Dr. Macdonald will be up later to attend to the dressings. He'll be waking again. If he asks for something to drink, give him fruit juice. He should be on soft foods soon. Miracle really. Missed the abdominal viscera. Didn't even shave a kidney. Muscle only. That bullet was dipped in enough poison to kill a horse. Thank God that man at Sav' La Mar recognized the symptoms of snake venom and gave him those massive anti-snakebite injections. Remind me to write to him, matron. He saved the man's life. Now then, no visitors of course, for at least another week. You can tell the police and the High Commissioner's Office that he's on the mend. I don't know who he is, but apparently London keeps on worrying us about him. Something to do with the Ministry of Defence. From now on, put them and all other inquiries through to the High Commissioner's Office. They seem to think they're in charge of him.” He paused. “By the way, how's his friend getting on in Number Twelve? The one the American ambassador and Washington have been on about. He's not on my list, but he keeps on asking to see this Mr. Bond.”