"I'm only jealous. Go on.''
“So he went all over the world---to India, China, Japan, America. He had many girls and many fights with cutlasses and fists. He wrote home regularly---to his mother and to a married sister who lived at Dover. They wanted him to come home and meet a nice girl and get married. But he wouldn't. You see, he was keeping himself for a dream girl who looked rather like me. And then''---she laughed--- ”the first steamships came in and he was transferred to an ironclad---that's the picture of it on the right. And by now he was a bosun, whatever that is, and very important. And he saved up from his pay and instead of going out fighting and having girls he grew that lovely beard, to make himself look older and more important, and he set to with a needle and colored threads to make that picture of himself. You can see how well he did it---his first windjammer and his last ironclad with the lifebuoy as a frame. He only finished it when he decided to leave the Navy. He didn't really like steamships. In the prime of life, don't you agree? And even then he ran out of gold thread to finish the rope round the lifebuoy, so he just had to tail it off. There, you can see on the right where the rope crosses the blue line. So he came back home on a beautiful golden evening after a wonderful life in the Navy and it was so sad and beautiful and romantic that he decided that he would put the beautiful evening into another picture. So he bought a pub at Bristol with his savings and in the mornings before the pub opened he worked away until he had finished and there you can see the little sailing ship that brought him home from Suez with his duffel bag full of silks and seashells and souvenirs carved out of wood. And that's the Needles Lighthouse beckoning him in to harbor on that beautiful calm evening. Mark you''---she frowned---“I don't like that sort of bonnet thing he's wearing for a hat, and I'd have liked him to have put `H.M.S.' before the `Hero,' but you can see that would have made it lopsided and he wouldn't have been able to get all the `Hero' in. But you must admit it's the most terrifically romantic picture. I cut it off my first packet, when I smoked one in the lavatory and felt terribly sick, and kept it until it fell to pieces. Then I cut off a fresh one. I carried him with me always until things went wrong and I had to go back to Italy. Then I couldn't afford Players. They're too expensive in Italy and I had to smoke things called Nazionales.'' Bond wanted to keep her mood. He said, ”But what happened to the Hero's pictures? How did the cigarette people get hold of them?''
“Oh, well, you see one day a man with a stovepipe hat and a frock coat came into the Hero's pub with two small boys. Here.'' She held the packet sideways. ”Those are the ones, `John Player & Sons.' You see, it says that their Successors run the business now. Well they had one of the first motor cars, a Rolls Royce, and it had broken down outside the Hero's pub. The man in the stovepipe hat didn't drink, of course---those sort of people didn't, not the respectable merchants who lived near Bristol. So he asked for ginger beer and bread and cheese while his chauffeur mended the car. And the hero got it for them. And Mr. John Player and the boys all admired the two wonderful tapestry pictures hanging on the wall of the pub. Now this Mr. Player was in the tobacco and snuff business and cigarettes had just been invented and he wanted to start making them. But he couldn't for the life of him know what to call them or what sort of a picture to put on the packet. And he suddenly had a wonderful idea. When he got back to the factory he talked to his manager and the manager came along to the pub and saw the Hero and offered him a hundred pounds to let his two pictures be copied for the cigarette packet. And the Hero didn't mind and anyway he wanted just exactly a hundred pounds to get married on.'' She paused. Her eyes were far away. “She was very nice, by the way, only thirty and a good plain cook and her young body kept him warm in bed until he died many years later. And she bore him two children, a boy and a girl. And the boy went into the Navy like his father. Well, anyway, Mr. Player wanted to have the Hero in the lifebuoy on one side of the packet and the beautiful evening on the other. But the manager pointed out that that would leave no room for all this''---she turned over the packet---”about `Rich, Cool,' and `Navy Cut Tobacco' and that extraordinary trademark of a doll's house swimming in chocolate fudge with Nottingham Castle written underneath. So then Mr. Player said, `Well then, we'll put one on top of the other.' And that's just exactly what they did and I must say I think it fits in very well, don't you? Though I expect the Hero was pretty annoyed at the mermaid being blanked out.''
"Oh, yes. Underneath the bottom comer of the lifebuoy where it dips into the sea, the Hero had put a tiny mermaid combing her hair with one hand and beckoning him home with the other. That was supposed to be the woman he was going to find and marry. But you can see there wasn't room and anyway her breasts were showing and Mr. Player, who was a very strong Quaker, didn't think that was quite proper. But he made it up to the Hero in the end.''
"Oh, how did he do that?''
“Well you see the cigarettes were a great success. It was really the picture that did it. People decided that anything with a wonderful picture like that on the outside must be good and Mr. Player made a fortune and I expect his Successors did too. So when the Hera was getting old and hadn't got long to live, Mr. Player had a copy of the lifebuoy picture drawn by the finest artist of the day. It was just the same as the Hero's except that it wasn't in color and it showed him very much older, and he promised the Hero that this picture too would always be on his cigarette packets, only on the inside bit. Here.'' She pushed out the cardboard container. ”You see how old he looks? And one other thing, if you look closely, the flags on the two ships are flying at half mast. Rather sweet of Mr. Player, don't you think, to ask the artist for that. It meant that the Hero's first and last ship were remembering him. And Mr. Player and his two sons came and presented it to him just before he died. It must have made it much easier for him, don't you think?''
"It certainly must. Mr. Player must have been a very thoughtful man.''
The girl was slowly returning from her dreamland. She said in a different, rather prim voice, “Well, thank you anyway for having listened to the story. I know it's all a fairy tale. At least I suppose it is. But children are stupid in that way. They like to have something to keep under the pillow until they're quite grown up---a rag doll or a small toy or something. I know that boys are just the same. My brother hung on to a little metal charm his nanny had given him until he was nineteen. Then he lost it. I shall never forget the scenes he made. Even though he was in the Air Force by then and it was the middle of the war. He said it brought him luck.'' She shrugged her shoulders. There was sarcasm in her voice as she said, ”He needn't have worried. He did all right. He was much older than me, but I adored him. I still do. Girls always love crooks, particularly if they're their brother. He did so well that he might have done something for me. But he never did. He said that life was every man for himself. He said that his grandfather had been so famous as a poacher and a smuggler in the Dolomites that his was the finest tombstone among all the Petacchi graves in the graveyard at Bolzano. My brother said he was going to have a finer one still, and by making money the same way.'' Bond held his cigarette steady. He took a long draw at it and let the smoke out with a quiet hiss. "Is your family name Petacchi, then?''
"Oh, yes. Vitali is only a stage name. It sounded better so I changed it. Nobody knows the other. I've almost forgotten it myself. I've called myself Vitali since I came back to Italy. I wanted to change everything.''
“What happened to your brother? What was his first name?'' ”Giuseppe. He went wrong in various ways. But he was a wonderful flyer. Last time I heard of him he'd been given some high-up job in Paris. Perhaps that'll make him settle down. I pray every night that it will. He's all I've got. I love him in spite of everything. You understand that?''
Bond stabbed out his cigarette in the ashtray. He called for the bill. He said, "Yes, I understand that.''
Swimming the Gantlet
The dark water below the police wharf sucked and kissed at the rusty iron stanchions. In the latticed shadows cast through the ironwork by the three-quarter moon, Constable Santos heaved the single aqualung cylinder up onto Bond's back and Bond secured the webbing at his waist so that it would not snarl the strap of Leiter's second Geiger counter, the underwater model. He fitted the rubber mouthpiece between his teeth and adjusted the valve release until the air supply was just right. He turned off the supply and took out the mouthpiece. The music of the steel band in the Junkanoo night club tripped gaily out over the water. It sounded like a giant spider dancing on a tenor xylophone.
Santos was a huge colored man, naked except for his swimming trunks, with pectoral muscles the size of dinner plates. Bond said, "What should I expect to see at this time of night? Any big fish about?''
Santos grinned. "Usual harbor stuff, sah. Some barracuda perhaps. Mebbe a shark. But they's lazy an' overfed with the refuse an muck from de drains. Dey won't trouble you---less you bleedin' that is. They'll be night-crawlin' things on the bottom---lobster, crab, mebbe a small pus-feller or two. The bottom's mostly seagrass on bits o' iron from wrecks an plenty of bottle and suchlike. Mucky, if you get me, sah. But the water's clear and you'll be hokay with this moon and the lights from the Disco to guide you. Tek you bout twelve, fifteen minute, I'da say. Funny ting. I been lookin' for an hour and dere's no watchman on deck an no one in the wheelhouse. An the bit o' breeze should hide you bubbles. Coulda give you an oxygen rebreather, but ah doan like dem tings. Them dangerous.''
"All right, let's go then. See you in about half an hour.'' Bond felt for the knife at his waist, shifted the webbing, and put the mouthpiece between his teeth. He turned on the air and, his fins slapping on the muddy sand, walked down and into the water. There he bent down, spat into his mask to prevent it steaming up, washed it out, and adjusted it. Then he walked slowly on, getting used to the breathing. By the end of the wharf he was up to his ears. He quietly submerged and launched himself forward into an easy leg crawl, his hands along his flanks.
The mud shelved steeply and Bond kept on going down, until, at about forty feet, he was only a few inches above the bottom. He glanced at the big luminous figures on the dial of his watch---12:10. He untensed himself and put his legs into an easy, relaxed rhythm.
Through the roof of small waves the pale moonlight flickered on the gray bottom, and the refuse---motor tires, cans, bottles---cast black shadows. A small octopus, feeling his shock wave, turned from dark brown to pale gray and squeezed itself softly back into the mouth of the oil-drum that was its home. Sea flowers, the gelatinous polyps that grow out of the sand at night, whisked down their holes as Bond's black shadow touched them. Other tiny night things puffed thin jets of silt out of their small volcanoes in the mud as they felt the tremor of Bond's passage, and an occasional hermit crab snapped itself back into its borrowed shell. It was like traveling across a moon landscape, on and under which many mysterious creatures lived minute lives. Bond watched it all, carefully, as if he had been an underwater naturalist. He knew that was the way to keep nerves steady under the sea---to focus the whole attention on the people who lived there and not try to probe the sinister gray walls of mist for imaginary monsters.