She smiled her wide smile. “No secrets. Just reading the Gleaner. I don't understand it all, but apparently, because there's a tremendous chess game going on all over the world in sugar--in what they call sugar futures, that's sort of buying the stuff forward for delivery dates later in the year. Washington's trying to keep the price down, to upset Cuba's economy, and Castro's out to keep the world price up so that he can bargain with Russia. So it's worth Castro's trouble to do as much damage as possible to rival sugar crops. He's only got his sugar to sell and he wants food badly. This wheat the Americans are selling to Russia. A lot of that will find its way back to Cuba, in exchange for sugar, to feed the Cuban sugar croppers.” She smiled again.
“Pretty daft business, isn't it? I don't think Castro can hold out much longer. The missile business in Cuba must have cost Russia about a billion pounds. And now they're having to pour money into Cuba, money and goods, to keep the place on its feet. I can't help thinking they'll pull out soon and leave Castro to go the way Batista went. It's a fiercely Catholic country, and Hurricane Flora was considered as the final judgment from heaven. It sat over the island and simply whipped it, day after day, for five days. No hurricane in history has ever behaved like that. The churchgoers don't miss an omen like that. It was a straight indictment of the regime.”
Bond said with admiration, “Goodnight, you're a treasure. You've certainly been doing your homework.”
The direct blue eyes looked straight into his, dodging the compliment. “This is the stuff I live with here. It's built into the Station. But I thought you might like some background to Frome, and what I've said explains why WISCO are getting these cane fires. At least we think it is. She took a sip of her drink. ”Well, that's all about sugar. The car's outside. You remember Strangways? Well, it's his old Sunbeam Alpine. The Station bought it, and now I use it. It's a bit aged, but it's still pretty fast and it won't let you down. It's rather bashed about, so it won't be conspicuous. The tank's full, and I've put the survey map in the glove compartment."
“That's fine. Now, last question and then we'll go and have dinner and tell each other our life stories. But, by the way, what's happened to your chief, Ross?”
Mary Goodnight looked worried. “To tell you the truth, I don't exactly know. He went off last week on some job to Trinidad. It was to try and locate a man called Scara-manga. He's a local gunman of some sort. I don't know much about him. Apparently Headquarters wants him traced for some reason.” She smiled ruefully. “Nobody ever tells me anything that's interesting. I just do the donkey work. Well, Commander Ross was due back two days ago and he hasn't turned up. I've had to send off a Red Warning, but I've been told to give him another week.”
“Well, I'm glad he's out of the way. I'd rather have his Number Two. Last question. What about this three-and-one-half Love Lane? Did you get anywhere?”
Mary Goodnight blushed. “Did I not! That was a fine question to get me mixed up with. Alexander's was noncommittal, and I finally had to go to the Special Branch. I shan't be able to show my face there for weeks. Heaven knows what they must think of you. That place is a, is a, er”--she wrinkled her nose--“it's a famous disorderly house in Sav' La Mar.”
Bond laughed out loud at her discomfiture. He teased her with malicious but gentle sadism. “You mean it's a whorehouse?”
“James! For heaven's sake! Must you be so crude?”
5 - No. 3 -1/2 Love Lane
The south coast of Jamaica is not as beautiful as the north and it is a long hundred-and-twenty-mile hack over very mixed road surfaces from Kingston to Savannah La Mar Mary Goodnight had insisted on coming along, “to navigate and help with the punctures.” Bond had not demurred.
Spanish Town, May Pen, Alligator Pond, Black River, Whitehouse Inn, where they had luncheon--the miles unrolled under the fierce sun until, late the afternoon, a stretch of good straight road brought them among the spruce little villas, each with its patch of brownish lawn, its bougainvillaea and its single bed of canna lilies and crotons, which make up the “smart” suburbs of the modes little coastal township that is, in the vernacular, Sav' La Mar.
Except for the old quarter on the waterfront, it is not a typically Jamaican town, or a very attractive one. The villas, built for the senior staff of the Frome sugar estates, are drably respectable, and the small straight streets smack of a most un-Jamaican bout of town planning around the 1920s. Bond stopped at the first garage, took in petrol, and put Mary Goodnight into a hired car for the return trip. He had told her nothing of his assignment, and she had asked no questions when Bond told her vaguely that it was “something to do with Cuba.” Bond said he would keep in touch when he could, and get back to her when his job was done, and then, businesslike, she was off back down the dusty road and Bond drove slowly down to the waterfront. He identified Love Lane, a narrow street of broken-down shops and houses that meandered back into the town from the jetty. He circled the area to get the neighbouring geography clear in his mind and parked the car in a deserted area near the spit of sand on which fishing canoes were drawn up on raised stilts. He locked the car and sauntered back and into Love Lane. There were a few people about, poor people of the fisherman class. Bond bought a packet of Royal Blend at a small general store that smelled of spices. He asked where Number three-and-a-half was and got a look of polite curiosity. “Further up de street. Mebbe a chain. Big house on de right.” Bond moved over to the shady side and strolled on. He slit open the packet with his thumbnail and lit a cigarette to help the picture of an idle tourist examining a corner of old Jamaica . There was only one big house on the right. He took some time lighting the cigarette while he examined it.
It must once have had importance, perhaps as the private house of a merchant. It was of two storeys with balconies running all the way round and it was wooden built with silvering shingles, but the gingerbread tracery beneath the eaves was broken in many places and there was hardly a scrap of paint left on the jalousies that closed off all the upstairs windows and most of those below. The patch of “yard” bordering the street was inhabited by a clutch of vulturine-necked chickens that pecked at nothing and three skeletal Jamaican black-and-tan mongrels. They gazed lazily across the street at Bond and scratched and bit at invisible flies. But, in the background, there was one very beautiful lignum vitae tree in full blue blossom. Bond guessed that it was as old as the house--perhaps fifty years. It certainly owned the property by right of strength and adornment. In its delicious black shade a girl in a rocking chair sat reading a magazine. At the range of about thirty yards she looked tidy and pretty. Bond strolled up the opposite side of the street until a corner of the house hid the girl. Then he stopped and examined the house more closely.
Wooden steps ran up to an open front door, over whose lintel, whereas few of the other buildings in the street bore numbers, a big enamelled metal sign announced “3-1/2” in white on dark blue. Of the two broad windows that bracketed the door, the left-hand one was shuttered, but the right-hand one was a single broad sheet of rather dusty glass through which tables and chairs and a serving counter could be seen. Over the door a swinging sign said DREAMLAND CAFE in sun-bleached letters, and round this window were advertisements for Red Stripe beer, Royal Blend, Four Aces cigarettes, and Coca-Cola. A hand-painted sign said SNAX and, underneath, HOT COCK SOUP FRESH DAILY.
Bond walked across the street and up the steps and parted the bead curtain that hung over the entrance. He walked over to the counter and was inspecting its contents --a plate of dry-looking ginger cakes, a pile of packeted banana crisps, and some jars--when he heard quick steps outside. The girl from the garden came in. The beads clashed softly behind her. She was an octoroon, pretty, as in Bond's imagination the word octoroon suggested. She had bold, brown eyes, slightly uptilted at the corners, beneath a fringe of silken black hair. (Bond reflected that there would be Chinese blood somewhere in her heredity.) She was dressed in a short frock of shocking pink which went well with the coffee and cream of her skin. Her wrists and ankles were tiny. She smiled politely. The eyes flirted. “Evenin'.”
“Good evening. Could I have a Red Stripe?”
“Sure.” She went behind the counter. She gave him a quick glimpse of fine bosoms as she bent to the door of the icebox--a glimpse not dictated by the geography of the place. She nudged the door shut with a knee, deftly uncapped the bottle, and put it on the counter beside an almost clean glass. “That'll be one and six.”
Bond paid. She rang the money into the cash register. Bond drew up a stool to the counter and sat down. She rested her arms on the wooden top and looked across at him. “Passing through?”
“More or less. I saw this place was for sale in yesterday's Gleaner. I thought I'd take a look at it. Nice big house. Does it belong to you?”
She laughed. It was a pity, because she was a pretty girl, but the teeth had been sharpened by munching raw sugar cane. “What a hope! I'm sort of, well sort of manager. There's the cafe”--she pronounced it caif--“and mebbe you heard we got other attractions.”
Bond looked puzzled. “What sort?”
“Girls. Six bedrooms upstairs. Very clean. It only cost a pound. There's Sarah up there now. Care to meet up with her?”
“Not today, thanks. It's too hot. But do you only have one at a time?”
“There's Lindy, but she's engaged. She's a big girl. If you like them big, she'll be free in half an hour.” She glanced at a kitchen clock on the wall behind her. “Around six o'clock. It'll be cooler then.”
“I prefer girls like you. What's your name?”
She giggled. “I only do it for love. I told you I just manage the place. They call me Tiffy.”
“That's an unusual name. How did you come by it?”
“My momma had six girls. Called them all after flowers. Violet, Rose, Cherry, Pansy, and Lily. Then when I came, she couldn't think of any more flower names so she called me Artificial.” Tiffy waited for him to laugh. When he didn't, she went on. “When I went to school they all said it was a wrong name and laughed at me and shortened it to Tiffy and that's how I've stayed.”
“Well, I think it's a very pretty name. My name's Mark.”
She flirted. “You a saint too?”
“No one's ever accused me of it. I've been up at Frome doing a job. I like this part of the island and it crossed my mind to find some place to rent. But I want to be closer to the sea than this. I'll have to look around a bit more. Do you rent rooms by the night?”
She reflected. “Sure. Why not. But you may find it a bit noisy. There's sometime a customer who's taken some drinks too many. And there's not too much plumbing.” She leaned closer and lowered her voice. “But I wouldn't have advised you to rent the place. The shingles are in bad shape. Cost you mebbe five hunnerd, mebbe a thousand, to get the roof done.”
“It's nice of you to tell me that. But why's the place being sold? Trouble with the police?”
“Not so much. We operate a respectable place. But in the Gleaner, after Mr Brown, that's my boss, you read that et ux?” “Yes.”