Bond said, “People don't tell me what to do. I tell them.” He walked on into the middle of the room and sat down at a table. He said. “Come and sit down and stop trying to lean on me. I'm unleanable-on.”

Scaramanga shrugged. He took two long strides, picked up one of the metal chairs, twirled it round and thrust it between his legs, and sat ass-backwards, his left arm lying along the back of the chair. His right arm rested on his thigh, inches from the pistol butt that showed above the waistband of his trousers. Bond recognized that it was a good working position for a gunman, the metal back of the chair acting as a shield for most of the body. This was certainly a most careful and professional man.

Bond, both hands in full view of the tabletop, said cheerfully, “No. I'm not from the police. My name's Mark Hazard. I'm from a company called Transworld Consortium. I've been doing a job up at Frome, the WISCO sugar place. Know it?”

“Sure I know it. What you been doing there?”

“Not so fast, my friend. First of all, who are you and what's your business?”

“Scaramanga. Francisco Scaramanga. Labour relations. Ever heard of me?”

Bond frowned. “Can't say I have. Should I have?”

“Some people who hadn't are dead.”

“A lot of people who haven't heard of me are dead.” Bond leaned back. He crossed one leg over the other, above the knee, and grasped the ankle in a clubman pose. “I do wish you'd stop talking in heroics. For instance, seven hundred million Chinese have certainly heard of neither of us. You must be a frog in a very small pool.”

Scaramanga did not rise to the jibe. He said reflectively, “Yeah. I guess you could call the Caribbean a pretty small pool. But there's good pickin's to be had from it. The Man with the Golden Gun. That's what they call me in these parts.”

“It's a handy tool for solving labour problems. We could do with you up at Frome.”

“Been having trouble up there?” Scaramanga looked bored.

“Too many cane fires.”

“Was that your business?”

“Sort of. One of the jobs of my company is insurance investigation.”

“Security work. I've come across guys like you before. Thought I could smell the cop-smell.” Scaramanga looked satisfied that his guess had been right. “Did you get anywhere?”

“Picked up a few Rastafari. I'd have liked to get rid of the lot of them. But they went crying to their union that they were being discriminated against because of their religion, so we had to call a halt. So the fires'll begin again soon. That's why I say we could do with a good enforcer up there.” Bond added blandly, “I take it that's another name for your profession?”

Again Scaramanga dodged the sneer. He said, “You carry a gun?”

“Of course. You don't go after the Rastas without one.”

“What kind of a gun?”

“Walther PPK. Seven sixty-five millimetre.”

“Yes, that's a stopper all right.” Scaramanga turned towards the counter. “Hey, cool cat. Couple of Red Stripes, if you're in business again.” He turned back and the blank eyes looked hard at Bond. “What's your next job?”

“Don't know. I'll have to contact London and find out if they've got any other problems in the area. But I'm in no hurry. I work for them more or less on a free-lance basis. Why? Any suggestions?”

The other man sat quiet while Tiffy came out from behind the counter. She came over to the table and placed the tin tray with the bottles and glasses in front of Bond. She didn't look at Scaramanga. Scaramanga uttered a harsh bark of laughter. He reached inside his coat and took out all alligator-skin billfold. He extracted a hundred-dollar bill and threw it on the table. “No hard feelings, cool cat. You'd be okay if you didn't always keep your legs together. Go buy yourself some more birds with that. I like to have smiling people around me.”

Tiffy picked up the bill. She said, “Thanks, mister. You'd be surprised what I'm going to spend your money on.” She gave him a long, hard look and turned on her heel.

Scaramanga shrugged. He reached for a bottle of beer and a glass, and both men poured and drank. Scaramanga took out an expensive cigar case, selected a pencil-thin cheroot and lit it with a match. He let the smoke dribble out between his lips and inhaled the thin stream up his nostrils. He did this several times with the same mouthful of smoke until the smoke was dissipated. All the while he stared across the table at Bond, seeming to weigh up something in his mind. He said, “Care to earn yourself a grand --a thousand bucks?”

Bond said, “Possibly.” He paused and added, “Probably.” What he meant was, “Of course! If it means staying close to you, my friend.”

Scaramanga smoked awhile in silence. A car stopped outside and two laughing men came quickly up the steps. When they came through the bead curtains, working-class Jamaicans, they stopped laughing and went quietly over to the counter and began whispering to Tiffy. Then they both slapped a pound note on the counter and, making a wide detour away from the white men, disappeared through the curtains at the back of the room. Their laughter began again as Bond heard their footsteps on the Stairs.

Scaramanga hadn't taken his eyes from Bond's face. Now he said, keeping his voice low, “I got myself a problem. Some partners of mine, they've taken an interest in this Negril development. Far end of the property. Place called Bloody Bay. Know it?”

“I've seen it on the map. Just short of Green Island Harbour.”

“Right. So I've got some shares in the business. So we start building the Thunderbird Hotel and get the first storey finished and the main living rooms and restaurant and so on. So then the tourist boom slackens off--Americans get frightened of being so close to Cuba or some such crap. And the banks get difficult and money begins to run short. Follow me?”

“So you're a stale bull of the place?” “Right. So I'm opening the hotel for a few days because I got a half-dozen of the main stockholders to fly in for a meeting on the spot. Sort of look the place over and get our heads together and figure what to do next. Now, I want to give these guys a good time, so I'm getting a smart combo over from Kingston, calypso singers, limbo dancers, plenty of girls--all the jazz. And there's swimming, and one of the features of the place is a small-scale railway that used to handle the sugar cane. Runs to Green Island Harbour where I've got a forty-foot Chris-Craft Roamer. Deep-sea fishing. That'll be another outing. Get me? Give the guys a real good tune.”

“So that they'll get all enthusiastic and buy out your share of the stock?”

Scaramanga frowned angrily. “I'm not paying you a grand to get the wrong ideas. Or any ideas for that matter.”

“What for then?”

For a moment or two Scaramanga went through his smoking routine, the little pillars of smoke vanishing again and again into the black nostrils. It seemed to calm him. His forehead cleared. He said, “Some of these men are kind of rough. We're all stockholders, of course, but that don't necessarily mean we're friends. Understand? I'll be wanting to hold some meetings, private meetings, with maybe only two or three guys at a time, sort of sounding out the different interests. Could be that some of the other guys, the ones not invited to a particular meeting, might get it into their heads to bug a meeting or try and get wise to what goes on in one way or another. So it just occurs to me that you being live to security and such, that you could act as a kind of guard at these meetings, clean the room for mikes, stay outside the door and see that no one comes nosing around, see that when I want to be private I git private. D'you get the picture?”

Bond had to laugh. He said, “So you want to hire me as a kind of personal bodyguard. Is that it?”

The frown was back. “And what's so funny about that, mister? It's good money, ain't it? Three maybe four days in a luxury joint like the Thunderbird. A thousand bucks at the end of it? What's so screwy about that proposition, eh?” Scaramanga mashed out the butt of his cigar against the underside of the table. A shower of sparks fell. He let them lie.

Bond scratched the back of his head as if reflecting. Which he was--furiously. He knew that he hadn't heard the full story. He also knew that it was odd, to say the least of it, for this man to hire a complete stranger to do this job for him. The job itself stood up, but only just. It made sense that Scaramanga would not want to hire a local man, an ex-policeman for instance, even if one could be found. Such a man might have friends in the hotel business who would be interested in the speculative side of the Negril development. And, of course, on the plus side, Bond would be achieving what he had never thought possible-- he would have got right inside Scaramanga's guard. Or would he? There was the strong smell of a trap. But, assuming that Bond had not, by some obscure bit of ill luck,

been blown, he couldn't for the life of him see what the trap could be. Well, clearly, he must make the gamble. In so many respects it was a chance in a million.

Bond lit a cigarette. He said, “I was only laughing at the idea of a man of your particular skills wanting protection. But it all sounds great fun. Of course I'll come along. When do we start? I've got a car at the bottom of the road.”

Scaramanga thrust out an inside wrist and looked at a thin gold watch on a two-coloured gold bracelet. He said, “Six thirty-two. My car'll be outside.” He got up. “Let's go. But don't forget one thing, mister whoosis. I rile mighty easy. Get me?”

Bond said easily, “I saw how annoyed you got with those inoffensive birds.” He stood up. “I don't see any reason why either of us should get riled.”

Scaramanga said indifferently, “Okay, then.” He walked to the back of the room and picked up his suitcase, new-looking but cheap, strode to the exit, and clashed through the bead curtains and down the steps.

Bond went quickly over to the counter. “Goodbye, Tiffy. Hope I'll be coming by again one day. If anyone should ask after me, say I'm at the Thunderbird Hotel at Bloody Bay .”

Tiffy reached out a hand and timidly touched his sleeve. “Go careful over there, Mister Mark. There's gangster money in that place. And watch out for yourself.” She jerked her head towards the exit: “That's the worstest man I ever heard tell of.”

Then she leaned forward and whispered, “That's a thousand pounds' worth of ganja he's got in the bag. A Rasta left it for him this morning. So I smelled the bag.” She drew quickly back.

Bond said, “Thanks, Tiffy. See Mother Edna puts a good hex on him. I'll tell you why someday. I hope. 'Bye!” He went quickly out and down into the street, where a red Thunderbird convertible was waiting, its exhaust making a noise like an expensive motorboat. The chauffeur was a Jamaican, smartly dressed, with a peaked cap. A red pennant on the wireless aerial said THUNDERBIRD HOTEL in gold. Scaramanga was sitting beside the chauffeur. He said impatiently, “Get in the back and we'll give you a lift down to your car. Then follow along. It gets a good road after a while.”

James Bond got into the car behind Scaramanga and wondered whether to shoot the man now, in the back of the head--the old Gestapo-K.G.B. point of puncture. A mixture of reasons prevented him--the itch of curiosity, an inbuilt dislike of cold murder, the feeling that this was not the predestined moment, the likelihood that he would have to murder the chauffeur also--these, combined with the softness of the night and the fact that the sound system was now playing a good recording of one of his favourites, “After You've Gone,” and that cicadas were singing from the lignum vitae tree, said no. But at that moment, as the car coasted down Love Lane towards the bright mercury of the sea, James Bond knew that he was not only disobeying orders, or at best dodging them, but also being a bloody fool.