Bond scratched his head thoughtfully. 'But the ball's still in play?'
'Oh yes, definitely.'
'Can you keep it in play? I take it you haven't got Blofeld's present address?' Sable Basilisk shook his head. 'Then would there be any conceivable excuse for an envoy from you?' Bond smiled. 'Me, for example, to be sent out from the College to have an interview with Blofeld - some tricky point that cannot be cleared up by correspondence, something that needs a personal inquiry from Blofeld?'
'Well, yes, there is in a way.' Sable Basilisk looked rather dubious. 'You see, in some families there is a strong physical characteristic that goes on inevitably from generation to generation. The Habsburg lip is a case in point. So is the tendency to haemophilia among descendants of the Bourbons. The hawk nose of the Medici is another. A certain royal family have minute, vestigial tails. The original maharajahs of Mysore were born with six fingers on each hand. I could go on indefinitely, but those are the most famous cases. Now, when I was scratching around in the crypt of the chapel at Blonville, having a look at the old Bleuville tombs, my flashlight, moving over the stone faces, picked out a curious fact that I tucked away in my mind but that your question has brought to the surface. None of the de Bleuvilles, as far as I could tell, and certainly not through a hundred and fifty years, had lobes to their ears.'
'Ah,' said Bond, running over in his mind the Identicast picture of Blofeld and the complete, printed physiognometry of the man in Records. 'So he shouldn't by rights have lobes to his ears. Or at any rate it would be a strong piece of evidence for his case if he hadn't?'
'Well, he has got lobes,' said Bond, annoyed. 'Rather pronounced lobes as a matter of fact. Where does that get us?'
'To begin with, added to what I know anyway, that makes him probably not a de Bleuville. But after all' - Sable Basilisk looked sly -'there's no reason why he should know what physical characteristic we're looking for in this interview.'
'You think we could set one up?'
'Don't see why not. But' - Sable Basilisk was apologetic -'would you mind 'if I got clearance from Garter King of Arms? He's my boss, so to speak, under the Duke of Norfolk that is, the Earl Marshal, and I can't remember that we've ever been mixed up in this sort of cloak-and-dagger stuff before. Actually' - Sable Basilisk waved a deprecating hand -'we are, we have to be, damned meticulous. You do see that, don't you?'
'Naturally. And I'm sure there'd be no objection. But, even if Blofeld agreed to see me, how in hell could I play the part? This stuff is all double Dutch to me.' He smiled. 'I don't know the difference between a gule and a bezant and I've never been able to make out what a baronet is. What's my story to Blofeld? Who am I exactly?'
Sable Basilisk was getting enthusiastic. He said cheerfully, 'Oh that'll be all right. I'll coach you in all the dope about the de Bleuvilles. You can easily mug up a few popular books on heraldry. It's not difficult to be impressive on the subject. Very few people know anything about it.'
'Maybe. But this Blofeld is a pretty smart animal. He'll want the hell of a lot of credentials before he sees anyone but his lawyer and his banker. Who exactly am I?'
'You think Blofeld's smart because you've seen the smart side of him,' said Sable Basilisk sapiently. 'I've seen hundreds of smart people from the City, industry, politics - famous people I've been quite frightened to meet when they walked into this room. But when it comes to snobbery, to buying respectability so to speak, whether it's the title they're going to choose or just a coat of arms to hang over their fire-places in Surbiton, they dwindle and dwindle in front of you' - he made a downward motion over his desk with his hand - 'until they're no bigger than homunculi. And the women are even worse. The idea of suddenly becoming a “lady” in their small community is so intoxicating that the way they bare their souls is positively obscene. It's as if' - Sable Basilisk furrowed his high, pale brow, seeking for a simile -'these fundamentally good citizens, these Smiths and Browns and
Joneses and' - he smiled across the desk - 'Bonds, regarded the process of ennoblement as a sort of laying-on of hands, a way of ridding themselves of all the drabness of their lives, of all their, so to speak, essential meagreness, their basic inferiority. Don't worry about Blofeld. He has already swallowed the bait. He may be a tremendous gangster, and he must be from what I remember of the case. He may be tough and ruthless in his corner of human behaviour. But if he is trying to prove that he is the Comte de Bleuville, you can be sure of various things. He wants to change his name. That is obvious. He wants to become a new, a respectable personality. That is obvious too. But above all he wants to become a Count.' Sable Basilisk brought his hand flat down on his desk for emphasis. 'That, Mr Bond, is tremendously significant. He is a rich and successful man in his line of business - no matter what it is. He no longer admires the material things, riches and power. He is now 54, as I reckon it. He wants a new skin. I can assure you, Air Bond, that he will receive you, if we play our cards right that is, as if he were consulting his doctor about' - Sable Basilisk's aristocratic face took on an expression of distaste - 'as if he were consulting his doctor after contracting V.D.' Sable Basilisk's eyes were now compelling. He sat back in his chair and lit his first cigarette. The smell of Turkish tobacco drifted across to Bond. 'That's it,' he said with certitude. 'This man knows he is unclean, a social pariah. Which of course he is. Now he has thought up this way of buying himself a new identity. If you ask me, we must help the hair to grow and flourish on his heel of Achilles until it is so luxuriant that he trips on it.'
'AND WHO the hell are you supposed to be?'
M more or less repeated Bond's question when, that evening, he looked up from the last page of the report that Bond had spent the afternoon dictating to Mary Goodnight. M's face was just outside the pool of yellow light cast by the green-shaded reading lamp on his desk, but Bond knew that the lined, sailor's face was reflecting, in varying degrees, scepticism, irritation, and impatience. The 'hell' told him so. M rarely swore and when he did it was nearly always at stupidity. M obviously regarded Bond's plan as stupid, and now, away from the dedicated, minutely focused world of the Heralds, Bond wasn't sure that M wasn't right.
'I'm to be an emissary from the College of Arms, sir. This Basilisk chap recommended that I should have some kind of a title, the sort of rather highfalutin one that would impress a man with this kind of bee in his bonnet. And Blofeld's obviously got this bee or he wouldn't have revealed his existence, even to such a presumably secure and - er - sort of remote corner of the world as the College of Arms. I've put down there the arguments of this chap and they make a lot of sense to me. Snobbery's a real Achilles heel with people. Blofeld's obviously got the bug badly. I think we can get to him through it.'
'Well, I think it's all a pack of nonsense,' said M testily. (Not many years before, M had been awarded the KCMG for his services, and Miss Moneypenny, his desirable secretary, had revealed in a moment of candour to Bond that M had not replied to a single one of the notes and letters of congratulation. After a while he had refused even to read them and had told Miss Moneypenny not to show him any more but to throw them in the wastepaper basket.) 'All right then, what's this ridiculous title to be? And what happens next?'
If Bond had been able to blush, he would have blushed. He said, 'Er - well, sir, it seems there's a chap called Sir Hilary Bray. Friend of Sable Basilisk's. About my age and not unlike me to look at. His family came from some place in Normandy. Family tree as long as your arm. William the Conqueror and all that. And a coat of arms that looks like a mixture between a jigsaw puzzle and Piccadilly Circus at night. Well, Sable Basilisk says he can fix it with him. This man's got a good war record and sounds a reliable sort of chap. He lives in some remote glen in the Highlands, watching birds and climbing the hills with bare feet. Never sees a soul. No reason why anyone in Switzerland should have heard of him.' Bond's voice became defensive, stubborn. 'Well, sir, the idea is that I should be him. Rather fancy cover, but I think it makes sense.'
'Sir Hilary Bray, eh?' M tried to conceal his scorn. 'And then what do you do? Run around the Alps waving this famous banner of his?'
Bond said patiently, obstinately, refusing to be browbeaten, 'First I'll get Passport Control to fix up a good passport. Then I mug up Bray's family tree until I'm word-perfect on the thing. Then I swot away at the rudiments of this heraldry business. Then, if Blofeld takes the bait, I go out to Switzerland with all the right books and suggest that I work out his de Bleuville pedigree with him."
'Then I try and winkle him out of Switzerland, get him over the frontier to somewhere where we can do a kidnap job on him, rather like the Israelis did with Eichmann. But I haven't worked out all the details yet, sir. Had to get your approval and then Sable Basilisk has got to make up a damned attractive fly and throw it over these Zurich solicitors.'
'Why not try putting pressure on the Zurich solicitors and winkle Blofeld's address out of them? Then we might think of doing some kind of a commando job.'
'You know the Swiss, sir. God knows what kind of a retainer these lawyers have from Blofeld. But it's bound to be millionaire size. We might eventually get the address, but they'd be bound to tip off Blofeld if only to lay their hands on their fees before he vamoosed. Money's the religion of Switzerland.'
'I don't need a lecture on the qualities of the Swiss, thank you, 007. At least they keep their trains clean and cope with the beatnik problem [two very rampant bees in M's bonnet!], but I daresay there's some truth in what you say. Oh, well.' M wearily pushed the file over to Bond. 'Take it away. It's a messy-looking bird's-nest of a plan. But I suppose it had better go ahead.' M shook his head sceptically. 'Sir Hilary Bray! Oh, well, tell the Chief of Staff I approve. But reluctantly. Tell him you can have the facilities. Keep me informed.' M reached for the Cabinet telephone. His voice was deeply disgruntled. 'Suppose I'll have to tell the PM we've got a line on the chap. The kind of tangle it is, I'll keep to myself. That's all, 007.'
'Thank you, sir. Goodnight.' As Bond went across to the door he heard M say into the green receiver, 'M speaking. I want the Prime Minister personally, please.' He might have been asking for the mortuary. Bond went out and softly closed the door behind him.
So, as November blustered its way into December, James Bond went unwillingly back to school, swotting up heraldry at his desk instead of top-secret reports, picking up scraps of medieval French and English, steeping himself in fusty lore and myth, picking the brains of Sable Basilisk and occasionally learning interesting facts, such as that the founders of Gamages came from the de Gamaches in Normandy and that Walt Disney was remotely descended from the d'Isignys of the same part of France. But these were nuggets in a wasteland of archaisms, and when, one day, Mary Goodnight, in reply to some sally of his, addressed him as 'Sir Hilary' he nearly bit her head off.
Meanwhile the highly delicate correspondence between Sable Basilisk and the Gebrüder Moosbrugger proceeded haltingly and at a snail's pace. They, or rather Blofeld behind them, posed countless irritating but, Sable Basilisk admitted, erudite queries each one of which had to be countered with this or that degree of heraldic obfuscation. Then there were minute questions about this emissary, Sir Hilary Bray. Photographs were asked for, and, suitably doctored, were provided. His whole career since his schooldays had to be detailed and was sent down from Scotland with a highly amused covering note from the real man. To test the market, more funds were asked for by Sable Basilisk and, with encouraging promptitude, were forthcoming in the shape of a further thousand pounds. When the cheque arrived on December 15th Sable Basilisk telephoned Bond delightedly. 'We've got him,' he said. 'He's hooked!' And, sure enough, the next day came a letter from Zurich to say that their client agreed to a meeting with Sir Hilary. Would Sir Hilary please arrive at Zurich Central Airport by Swissair flight Number 105, due at Zurich at 1300 hours on December 21st. On Bond's prompting, Sable Basilisk wrote back that the date was not convenient to Sir Hilary owing to a prior engagement with the Canadian High Commissioner regarding a detail in the Arms of the Hudson's Bay Company. Sir Hilary could, however, manage the 22nd. By return came a cable agreeing and, to Bond, confirming that the fish had not only swallowed the hook but the line and sinker as well.