"Daft, Mr. Largo, quite daft. Worse even than Florida. Out of
this world. I wouldn't advise any client of mine to invest at these prices.''
“Quite so.'' Largo obviously didn't want to get drawn too deeply into these matters. ”You mentioned something about Palmyra. Is there anything I can do to help in that respect?''
Bond said, “I understand you have a lease of the property, Mr. Largo. And there is talk that you may be leaving the house before long. Only gossip, of course. You know what they are in these small islands. But it sounds more or less what I'm looking for and I gather the owner, this Englishman, Bryce, might sell if he got the right price. What I was going to ask you''---Bond looked apologetic---”was whether we might drive out and look the place over. Some time when you weren't there of course. Any time that might suit you.''
Largo flashed his teeth warmly. He spread his hands. "But of course, of course, my dear fellow. Whenever you wish. There is no one in residence but my niece and a few servants. And she is out most of the time. Please just call her up on the telephone. I shall tell her that you will be doing so. It is indeed a charming property---so imaginative. A beautiful piece of design. If only all rich men had such good taste.''
Bond got to his feet and Leiter followed suit. “Well, that's extraordinarily kind of you, Mr. Largo. And now we'll leave you in peace. Perhaps we may meet again in the town some time. You must come and have lunch. But''---Bond poured admiration and flattery into his voice---”with a yacht like this, I don't suppose you ever want to come ashore. Must be the only one on this side of the Atlantic. Didn't one used to run between Venice and Trieste? I seem to remember reading about it somewhere.''
Largo grinned his pleasure. "Yes, that is right, quite right. They are also on the Italian lakes. For passenger traffic. Now they are buying them in South America. A wonderful design for coastal waters. She only draws four feet when the hydrofoil is operating.''
"I suppose accommodation's the problem?''
It is a weakness of all men, though not necessarily of all women, to love their material possessions. Largo said, with a trace of pricked vanity, “No, no. I think you will find that it is not so. You can spare five minutes? We are rather crowded at the moment. You have heard no doubt of our treasure hunt?'' He looked sharply at them as a man would who expects ridicule. ”But we will not discuss that now. No doubt you do not believe in these things. But my associates in the affair are all on board. With the crew, there are forty of us. You will see that we are not cramped. You would like?'' Largo gestured to the door in the rear of the stateroom.
Felix Leiter showed reluctance. "You know, Mr. Bond, that we have that meeting with Mr. Harold Christie at five o'clock?''
Bond waved the objection aside. "Mr. Christie is a charming man.
I know he won't mind if we are a few minutes late. I'd love to see over the ship if you're sure you can spare the time, Mr. Largo.'' Largo said, "Come. It will not take more than a few minutes. The excellent Mr. Christie is a friend of mine. He will understand.'' He went to the door and held it open.
Bond had been expecting the politeness. It would interfere with
Leiter and his apparatus. He said firmly, "Please go first, Mr. Largo.
You will be able to tell us when to duck our heads.'' With more affabilities, Largo led the way. Ships, however modern, are more or less the same---the corridors to port and starboard of the engine room, rows of cabin doors, which
Largo explained were occupied, the large communal bathrooms, the galley, where two cheerful-looking Italians in white smocks laughed at Largo's jokes.about the food and seemed pleased with the visitors' interest, the huge engine room where the chief engineer and his mate, Germans it seemed, gave enthusiastic information about the powerful twin Diesels and explained the hydraulics of the hydrofoil depressor ---it was all exactly like visiting any other ship and saying the right things to the crew, using the right superlatives to the owner.
The short space of afterdeck was occupied by the little two-seater amphibian, painted dark blue and white to match the yacht, its wings now folded and its engine cowled against the sun, a big jolly-boat to hold about twenty men, and an electric derrick to hoist them in- and outboard. Bond, estimating the ship's displacement and her freeboard, said casually, "And the hold? More cabin space?''
“Just storage. And the fuel tanks, of course. She is an expensive ship to run. We have to carry several tons. The ballast problem is important with these ships. When her bows come up, the fuel shifts aft. We have to have big lateral tanks to correct these things.'' Talking fluently and expertly, Largo led them back up the starboard passageway. They were about to pass the radio room when Bond said, ”You said you had ship-to-shore. What else do you carry? The usual Marconi short and long wave, I suppose. Could I have a look? Radio has always fascinated me.''
Largo said politely, "Some other time, if you don't mind. I'm keeping the operator full time on met. reports. They're rather important to us at the moment.''
They climbed up into the enclosed dome of the bridge, where Largo briefly explained the controls and led them out on the narrow deck space. “So there you are,'' said Largo. ”The good ship Disco Volante ---the Flying Saucer. And she really does fly, I can assure you. I hope you and Mr. Larkin will come for a short cruise one of these days. For the present''---he smiled with a hint of a secret shared--- "as you may have heard, we are rather busy.''
"Very exciting, this treasure business. Do you think you've got a good chance?''
“We like to think so.'' Largo was deprecating. ”I only wish I could tell you more.'' He waved an apologetic hand. "Unfortunately, as they say, my lips are sealed. I hope you will understand.''
"Yes, of course. You have your shareholders to consider. I only wish I was one so that I could come along. I suppose there's not room for another investor?''
“Alas, no. The issue, as they say, is fully subscribed. It would have been very pleasant to have had you with us.'' Largo held out a hand. ”Well, I see that Mr. Larkin has been looking anxiously at his watch during our brief tour. We must not keep Mr. Christie waiting any longer. It has been a great pleasure to meet you, Mr. Bond. And you, Mr. Larkin.''
With a further exchange of courtesies they went down the ladder to the waiting launch and got under way. There was a last wave from Mr. Largo before he vanished through the hatch to the bridge.
They sat in the stern well away from the boatman. Leiter shook his head. "Absolutely negative. Reaction around the engine room and the radio room, but that's normal. It was all normal, damnably normal. What did you make of him and the whole setup?''
"Same as you---damned normal. He looks what he says he is, and behaves that way. Not much crew about, but the ones we saw were either ordinary crew or wonderful actors. Only two small things stuck me. There was no way down to the hold that I could see, but of course it could have been a manhole under the passage carpet. But then how do you get the stores he talked of down there? And there's the hell of a lot of space in that hold even if I don't know much about naval architecture. I'll do a check with the oiling wharf through the customs people and see just how much fuel he does carry. Then it's odd that we didn't see any of these shareholders. It was around three o'clock when we went on board and most of them may have been having siestas. But surely not all nineteen of them. What do they do in their cabins all the time? Another small thing. Did you notice that Largo didn't smoke and that there was no trace of tobacco smell anywhere in the ship? That's odd. Around forty men and not one of them is a smoker. If one had anything else to go on one would say that wasn't coincidence but discipline. The real pros don't drink or smoke. But I admit it's a damned long shot. Notice the Decca Navigator and the echo-sounder? Pretty expensive bits of equipment, both of them. Fairly normal on a big yacht, of course, but I'd have expected Largo to point them out when he was showing us the bridge. Rich men are proud of their toys. But that's only clutching at straws. I'd have said the whole outfit's as clean as a whistle if it wasn't for all that missing space we weren't shown. That talk about fuel and ballast sounded a bit glib to me. What do you think?''
"Same as you. There's at least half of that ship we didn't see. But then again there's a perfectly good answer to that. He may have got a stack of secret treasure-hunting gear down there he doesn't want anyone to see. Remember that merchant ship off Gibraltar during the war? The Italian frogmen used it as a base. Big sort of trapdoor affair cut in the hull below the water line. I suppose he hasn't got something like that?''
Bond looked sharply at Leiter. “The Olterra . One of the blackest marks against Intelligence during the whole war.'' He paused. ”The Disco was anchored in about forty feet of water. Supposing they'd got the bombs buried in the sand below her. Would your Geiger counter have registered?''
“Doubt it. I've got an underwater model and we could go and have a sniff round when it gets dark. But really, James''---Leiter frowned impatiently---”aren't we getting a bit off beam---seeing burglars under the bed? We've got damn-all to go on. Largo's a powerful-looking piratical sort of chap, probably a bit of a crook where women are concerned. But what the hell have we got against him? Have you put a Trace through on him and on these shareholders and the crew members?''
“Yes. Put them all on the wire from Government House, Urgent Rates. We should get an answer by this evening. But look here, Felix.'' Bond's voice was stubborn. ”There's a damned fast ship with a plane and forty men no one knows anything about. There's not another group or even an individual in the area who looks in the least promising. All right, so the outfit looks all right and its story seems to stand up. But just supposing the whole thing was a phony---a damned good one of course, but then so it ought to be with all that's at stake. Take another look at the picture. These so-called shareholders all arrive just in time for June third. On that night the Disco goes to sea and stays out till morning. Just supposing she rendezvous'd that plane in shallow water somewhere. Just suppose she picked up the bombs and put them away---in the sand under the ship, if you like. Anyway, somewhere safe and convenient. Just suppose all that and what sort of a picture do you get?''
“A B picture so far as I'm concerned, James.'' Leiter shrugged resignedly. ”But I guess there's just enough to make it a lead.'' He laughed sardonically. "But I'd rather shoot myself than put it in tonight's report. If we're going to make fools of ourselves, we'd better do it well out of sight and sound of our chiefs. So what's on your mind? What comes next?''
“While you get our communications going, I'm going to check with the oiling wharf. Then we'll call up this Domino girl and try and get ourselves asked for a drink and have a quick look at Largo's shore base---this Palmyra. Then we go to the Casino and look over the whole of Largo's group. And then''---Bond looked stubbornly at Leiter ---”I'm going to borrow a good man from the Police Commission to give me a hand, put on an aqualung, and go out and have a sniff round the Disco with your other Geiger machine.''
Leiter said laconically, "Destry Rides Again! Well, I'll go along with that, James. Just for old times' sake. But don't go and stub your toe on a sea urchin or anything. I see there are free cha-cha lessons in the ballroom of the Royal Bahamian tomorrow. We've got to keep fit for those. I guess there'll be nothing else in this trip for my memory book.''