The Bahamas, the string of a thousand islands that straggle five hundred miles southeast from just east of the coast of Florida to just north of Cuba, from latitude 27º down to latitude 21º, were, for most of three hundred years, the haunt of every famous pirate of the western Atlantic, and today tourism makes full use of the romantic mythology. A road-sign said “ Blackbeard's Tower 1 mile '' and another ” Gunpowder Wharf. Sea Food. Native Drinks. Shady Garden. First Left .''
A sand track showed on their left. The girl took it and pulled up in front of a ruined stone warehouse against which leaned a pink clapboard house with white window frames and a white Adam-style doorway over which hung a brightly painted inn sign of a powder keg with a skull and crossbones on it. The girl drove the MG into the shade of a clump of casuarinas and they got out and went through the door and through a small dining room with red and white checked covers and out onto a terrace built on the remains of a stone wharf. The terrace was shaded by sea-almond trees trimmed into umbrellas. Trailed by a shuffling colored waiter with soup stains down his white coat, they chose a cool table on the edge of the terrace looking over the water. Bond glanced at his watch. He said to the girl, "It's exactly midday. Do you want to drink solid or soft?''
The girl said, "Soft. I'll have a double Bloody Mary with plenty of Worcester sauce.''
Bond said, “What do you call hard? I'll have a vodka and tonic with a dash of bitters.'' The waiter said, ”Yassuh'' and mooched away.
“I call vodka-on-the-rocks hard. All that tomato juice makes it soft.'' She hooked a chair toward her with one foot and stretched out her legs on it so that they were in the sun. The position wasn't comfortable enough. She kicked off her sandals and sat back, satisfied. She said, ”When did you arrive? I haven't seen you about. When it's like this, at the end of the season, one expects to know most of the faces.''
"I got in this morning. From New York. I've come to look for a property. It struck me that now would be better than in the season. When all the millionaires are here the prices are hopeless. They may come down a bit now they're gone. How long have you been here?
"About six months. I came out in a yacht, the Disco Volante . You may have seen her. She's anchored up the coast. You probably flew right over her coming in to land at Windsor Field.''
"A long low streamlined affair? Is she yours? She's got beautiful lines.''
"She belongs to a relative of mine.'' The eyes watched Bond's face.
"Do you stay on board?''
"Oh, no. We've got a beach property. Or rather we've taken it. It's a place called Palmyra. Just opposite where the yacht is. It belongs to an Englishman. I believe he wants to sell it. It's very beautiful. And it's a long way away from the tourists. It's at a place called Lyford Key.''
"That sounds the sort of place I'm looking for.''
"Well, we'll be gone in about a week.''
“Oh.'' Bond looked into her eyes. ”I'm sorry.''
“If you've got to flirt, don't be obvious.'' Suddenly the girl laughed. She looked contrite. The dimples remained. ”I mean, I didn't really mean that---not the way it sounded. But I've spent six months listening to that kind of thing from these silly old rich goats and the only way to shut them up is to be rude. I'm not being conceited. There's no one under sixty in this place. Young people can't afford it. So any woman who hasn't got a harelip or a mustache---well not even a mustache would put them off. They'd probably like it. Well, I mean absolutely any girl makes these old goats get their bifocals all steamed up.'' She laughed again. She was getting friendly. "I expect you'll have just the same effect on the old women with pince-nez and blue rinses.''
"Do they eat boiled vegetables for lunch?''
"Yes, and they drink carrot juice and prune juice.''
"We won't get on, then. I won't sink lower than conch chowder.''
She looked at him curiously. "You seem to know a lot about Nassau.''
"You mean about conch being an aphrodisiac? That's not only a Nassau idea. It's all over the world where there are conchs.''
"Is it true?''
"Island people have it on their wedding night. I haven't found it to have any effect on me.''
“Why?'' She looked mischievous. ”Are you married?''
“No.'' Bond smiled across into her eyes. ”Are you?''
Then we might both try some conch soup some time and see what happens.''
"That's only a little better than the millionaires. You'll have to try harder.''
The drinks came. The girl stirred hers with a finger, to mix in the brown sediment of Worcester sauce, and drank half of it. She reached for the carton of Dukes, broke it open, and slit a packet with her thumbnail. She took out a cigarette, sniffed it cautiously, and lit it with Bond's lighter. She inhaled deeply and blew out a long plume of smoke. She said doubtfully, "Not bad. At least the smoke looks like smoke. Why did you say you were such an expert on giving up smoking?''
“Because I've given it up so often.'' Bond thought it time to get away from the small talk. He said, ”Why do you talk such good English? Your accent sounds Italian.''
“Yes, my name's Dominetta Vitali. But I was sent to school in England. To the Cheltenham Ladies College. Then I went to RADA to learn acting. The English kind of acting. My parents thought that was a ladylike way to be brought up. Then they were both killed in a train crash. I went back to Italy to earn my living. I remembered my English but''---she laughed without bitterness---”I soon forgot most of the rest. You don't get far in the Italian theater by being able to walk about with a book balanced on your head.''
“But this relative with the yacht.'' Bond looked out to sea. ”Wasn't he there to look after you?''
“No.'' The answer was curt. When Bond made no comment she added, ”He's not exactly a relative, not a close one. He's a sort of close friend. A guardian.'' "Oh, yes.''
“You must come and visit us on the yacht.'' She felt that a bit of gush was needed. ”He's called Largo, Emilio Largo. You've probably heard. He's here on some kind of a treasure hunt.''
“Really?'' Now it was Bond's turn to gush. ”That sounds rather fun, Of course I'd like to meet him. What's it all about? Is there anything in it?''
"Heaven knows. He's very secretive about it. Apparently there's some kind of a map. But I'm not allowed to see it and I have to stay ashore when he goes off prospecting or whatever he does. A lot of people have put up money for it, sort of shareholders. They've all just arrived. As we're going in a week or so, I suppose everything's ready and the real hunt's going to start any moment now.''
"What are the shareholders like? Do they seem sensible sort of people? The trouble with most treasure hunts is that either someone's been there before and sneaked off with the treasure or the ship's so deep in the coral you can't get at it.''
"They seem all right. Very dull and rich. Terribly serious for something as romantic as treasure hunting. They seem to spend all their time with Largo. Plotting and planning, I suppose. And they never seem to go out in the sun or go bathing or anything. It's as if they didn't want to get sunburned. As far as I can gather, none of them have ever been in the tropics before. Just a typical bunch of stuffy businessmen. They're probably better than that. I haven't seen much of them. Largo's giving a party for them at the Casino tonight.''
"What do you do all day?''
"Oh, I fool around. Do a bit of shopping for the yacht. Drive around in the car. Bathe on other people's beaches when their houses are empty. I like underwater swimming. I've got an aqualung and I take one of the crew out or a fisherman. The crew are better. They all do it.''
"I used to do it a bit. I've brought my gear. Will you show me some good bits of reef sometime?''
The girl looked pointedly at her watch. “I might do. It's time I went.'' She got up. ”Thanks for the drink. I'm afraid I can't take you back. I'm going the other way. They'll get you a taxi here.'' She shuffled her feet into her sandals.
Bond followed the girl through the restaurant to her car. She got in and pressed the starter. Bond decided to risk another snub. He said, "Perhaps I'll see you at the Casino tonight, Dominetta.''
“Praps.'' She put the car pointedly into gear. She took another look at him. She decided that she did want to see him again. She said, ”But for God's sake don't call me Dominetta. I'm never called that. People call me Domino.'' She gave him a brief smile, but it was a smile into the eyes. She raised a hand. The rear wheels spat sand and gravel and the little blue car whirled out along the driveway to the main road. It paused at the intersection and then, as Bond watched, turned righthanded toward Nassau.
Bond smiled. He said, "Bitch,'' and walked back into the restaurant to pay his bill and have a taxi called.
The Man from the C.I.A.
The taxi took Bond out to the airport at the other end of the island by the Interfield Road. The man from the Central Intelligence Agency Was due in by Pan American at one-fifteen. His name was Larkin, F. Larkin. Bond hoped he wouldn't be a muscle-bound ex-college man With a crew-cut and a desire to show up the incompetence of the British, the backwardness of their little Colony, and the clumsy ineptitude of Bond, in order to gain credit with his chief in Washington. Bond hoped that at any rate he would bring the equipment he had asked for before he left London through Section A, who looked after the liaison with C.I.A. This was the latest transmitter and receiver for agents in the field, so that the two of them could be independent of cable offices, and have instant communication with London and Washington, and the most modern portable Geiger counters for operating both on land and under water. One of the chief virtues of C.I.A., in Bond's estimation, was the excellence of their equipment, and he had no false pride about borrowing from them.
New Providence, the island containing Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, is a drab sandy slab of land fringed with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. But the interior is nothing but a waste of low-lying scrub, casuarinas, mastic, and poison-wood with a large brackish lake at the western end. There are birds and tropical flowers and palm trees, imported fully grown from Florida, in the beautiful gardens of the millionaires round the coast, but in the middle of the island there is nothing to attract the eye but the skeleton fingers of spidery windmill pumps sticking up above the pine barrens, and Bond spent the ride to the airport reviewing the morning.
He had arrived at seven a.m. to be met by the Governor's A.D.C. ---a mild error of security---and taken to the Royal Bahamian, a large old-fashioned hotel to which had recently been applied a thin veneer of American efficiency and tourist gimmicks---ice water in his room, a Cellophane-wrapped basket of dingy fruit “with the compliments of the Manager,'' and a strip of ”sanitized'' paper across the lavatory seat. After a shower and a tepid, touristy breakfast on his balcony overlooking the beautiful beach, he had gone up to Government House at nine o'clock for a meeting with the Commissioner of Police, the Chief of Immigration and Customs, and the Deputy Governor. It was exactly as he had imagined it would be. The MOST IMMEDIATES and the TOP SECRETS had made a superficial impact and he was promised full cooperation in every aspect of his assignment, but the whole business was clearly put down as a ridiculous flap and something that must not be allowed to interfere with the normal routine of running a small, sleepy colony, nor with the comfort and happiness of the tourists. Roddick, the Deputy Governor, careful, middle-of-the-way man with a ginger mustache and gleaming pince-nez, had put the whole affair in a most sensible light. "You see, Commander Bond, in our opinion---and we have most carefully debated all the possibilities, all the, er, angles, as our American friends would say---it is inconceivable that a large four-engined plane could have been hidden anywhere within the confines of the Colony. The only airstrip cable of taking such a plane---am I right, Harling?--- is here in Nassau. So far as a landing on the sea is concerned, a, er, ditching I think they call it, we have been in radio contact with the Administrators on all the larger outer islands and the replies are all negative. The radar people at the meteorological station . . .''