Goldfinger

Page 21


There were rear-lights ahead - dim ones. Bond had his fog lights on. He switched on the Marchals. It was some little sports car. Bond closed up. MG? Triumph? Austin Healey? It was a pale grey Triumph two-seater with the hood up. Bond blinked his lights and swept past. Now there was the glare of another car ahead. Bond dowsed his headlamps and drove on the fogs. The other car was a mile down the road. Bond crept up on it. At a quarter of a mile, he flashed the Marchals on and off for a quick look. Yes, it was the Rolls. Bond dropped back to a mile and stayed there, vaguely noticing the dim lights of the TR3 in his mirror. On the outskirts of Orleans, Bond pulled into the side of the road. The Triumph growled casually past.

Bond had never cared for Orleans. It was a priest and myth ridden town without charm or gaiety. It was content to live off Joan of Arc and give the visitor a hard, holy glare while it took his money. Bond consulted his Michelin. Gold-finger would stop at five-star hotels and eat fillets of sole and roast chicken. It would be the Arcades for him - perhaps the Moderne. Bond would have liked to stay outside the town and sleep on the banks of the Loire in the excellent Auberge de la Montespan, his belly full of quenelles de brocket. He would have to stick closer to his fox. He decided on the Hotel de la Gare and dinner at the station buffet.

When in doubt, Bond always chose the station hotels. They were adequate, there was plenty of room to park the car and it was better than even chances that the Buffet de la Gare would be excellent. And at the station one could hear the heartbeat of the town. The night-sounds of the trains were full of its tragedy and romance.

The drone on the receiver had stayed constant for ten minutes. Bond noted his way to the three hotels and cautiously crept into the town. He went down to the river and along the lighted guais. He had been right. The Rolls was outside the Arcades. Bond turned back into the town and made for the station.

The Hotel de la Gare was all he had expected - cheap, old-fashioned, solidly comfortable. Bond had a hot bath, went back to his car to make sure the Rolls hadn't moved, and walked into the station restaurant and ate one of his favourite meals - two aeufs cocotte a la creme, a large sole meuniere (Orleans was close enough to the sea. The fish of the Loire are inclined to be muddy) and an adequate Camembert. He drank a well-iced pint of Rose d'Anjou and had a Hennessy's Three Star with his coffee. At ten-thirty he left the restaurant, checked on the Rolls and walked the virtuous streets for an hour. One more check on the Rolls and bed.

At six o'clock the next morning the Rolls hadn't moved. Bond paid his bill, had a cafe complet- with a double ration of coffee - at the station, motored down to the quais and backed his car up a side street. This time he could not afford to make a mistake. Goldfinger would either cross the river and head south to join N7 for the Riviera, or he would follow the north bank of the Loire, also perhaps for the Riviera, but also on the route for Switzerland and Italy. Bond got out of the car and lounged against the parapet of the river wall, watching between the trunks of the plane trees. At eight-thirty, two small figures came out of the Arcades. The Rolls moved off. Bond watched it follow the quais until it was out of sight, then he got behind the wheel of the Aston Martin and set off in pursuit.

Bond motored comfortably along the Loire in the early summer sunshine. This was one of his favourite corners of the world. In May, with the fruit trees burning white and the soft wide river still big with the winter rains, the valley was green and young and dressed for love. He was thinking this when, before Chateauneuf, there was a shrill scream from twin Bosch horns and the little Triumph tore past. The hood was down. There was the blur of a pretty face hidden by white motoring goggles with dark blue lenses. Although Bond only saw the edge of a profile - a slash of red mouth and the fluttering edge of black hair under a pink handkerchief with white spots, he knew she was pretty from the way she held her head. There was the authority of someone who is used to being admired, combined with the self-consciousness of a girl driving alone and passing a man in a smart car.

Bond thought: That would happen today! The Loire is dressed for just that - chasing that girl until you run her to ground at lunch-time, the contact at the empty restaurant by the river, out in the garden under the vine trellis. The friture and the ice-cold Vouvray, the cautious sniffing at each other and then the two cars motoring on in convoy until that evening, well down to the south, there would be the place they had agreed on at lunch - olive trees, crickets singing in the indigo dusk, the discovery that they liked each other and that their destinations could wait. Then, next day ('No, not tonight. I don't know you well enough, and besides I'm tired') they would leave her car in the hotel garage and go off in his at a tangent, slowly, knowing there was no hurry for anything, driving to the west, away from the big roads. What was that place he had always wanted to go to, simply because of the name? Yes, Entre Deux Seins, a village near Les Baux. Perhaps there wasn't even an inn there. Well, then they would go on to Les Baux itself, at the Bouches du Rhone on the edge of the Camargue. There they would take adjoining rooms (not a double room, it would be too early for that) in the fabulous Baumaniere, the only hotel-restaurant in France with Michelin's supreme accolade. They would eat the gratin de langouste and perhaps, because it was traditional on such a night, drink champagne. And then..

Bond smiled at his story and at the dots that ended it. Not today. Today you're working. Today is for Goldfinger, not for love. Today the only scent you may smell is Goldfinger's expensive after-shave lotion, not... what would she use? English girls made mistakes about scent. He hoped it would be something slight and clean. Balmain's Vent Vert perhaps, or Caron's Muguet. Bond tuned up his receiver for reassurance, then hushed it and motored on, relaxed, playing with his thoughts of the girl, filling in the details. Of course he might meet up with her again. They seemed to be keeping pretty close company. She must have spent the night in Orleans. Where? What a waste. But wait a minute! Suddenly Bond woke up from his daydreaming. The open hood reminded him. He'd seen that Triumph before. It had been at Ferryfield, must have taken the flight after Goldfinger. It was true he hadn't seen the girl or noted the registration number, but surely it was the same. If so, for her to be still on Goldfinger's tail after three hundred miles was more than coincidence. And she had been driving with dimmed lights the night before! Here, what's going on?

Bond stepped on the accelerator. He was approaching Nevers. He'd anyway have to close up for the next big turning. He would kill two birds with one stone and also see what the girl was up to. If she was keeping station somewhere between him and Goldfinger there would have to be some furious thinking. And it would be a blasted nuisance. It was hard enough keeping up with Goldfinger. With another tail sandwiched between them, it would become hellish difficult.

She was still there, perhaps two miles behind the Rolls, keeping well back. As soon as he caught sight of her little glittering rump (as he described it to himself) Bond slowed. Well, well! Who was she? What the hell was all this about? Bond motored on, his face morose and thoughtful.

The little convoy kept on, still following the wide black sheen of N7 that runs like a thick, dangerous nerve down through the heart of France. But at Moulins Bond nearly lost the scent. He had to double back quickly and get on to N73. Goldfinger had turned at right angles and was now making for Lyons and Italy, or for Macon and Geneva. Bond had to do some fast motoring, and then was only just in time to avoid running into trouble. He had not worried much about the pitch of the Homer. He had counted on a sight of the Triumph to slow him down. Suddenly he realized that the drone was becoming a howl. If he hadn't braked hard down from the ninety he was doing, he would have been on top of. the Rolls. As it was, he was barely creeping along when he came over a rise and saw the big yellow car stopped by the wayside a mile ahead. There was a blessed cart-track. Bond swerved into it and stopped under cover of a low hedge. He took a small pair of binoculars out of the glove compartment, got out of the car and walked back. Yes, damn it! Goldfinger was sitting below a small bridge on the bank of a stream. He was wearing a white dust coat and white linen driving helmet in the style of German tourists. He was eating, having a picnic. The sight made Bond hungry. What about his own lunch? He examined the Rolls. Through the rear window he could see part of the Korean's black shape in the front seat. There was no sign of the Triumph. If the girl had still been on Goldfinger's tail she would have had no warning. She would have just kept her head down and stepped on the gas. Now she would be somewhere ahead, waiting in ambush for the Rolls to come by. Or would she? Perhaps Bond's imagination had run away with him. She was probably on her way to the Italian lakes to join an aunt, some friends, a lover.

Now Goldfinger was on his feet. Tidy man. That's right, pick up the scraps of paper and tuck them away carefully under the bridge. Why not throw them in the stream? Suddenly Bond's jaw tightened. What did those actions of Gold-finger remind him of? Was Bond romancing again, or was the bridge a post box? Had Goldfinger been instructed to leave something, one of his bars of gold, under this particular bridge? France, Switzerland, Italy. It was convenient for all of them - the Communist cell in Lyons for instance, one of the strongest in France. And this was a good place to use with a clear field of view up and down the road.

Goldfinger scrambled up the bank. Bond drew back under cover. He heard the distant grind of the old self-starter. He cautiously watched the Rolls until it had disappeared.

It was a pretty bridge over a pretty stream. It had a survey number set in the arch - 79/6 - the sixth bridge from some town on N79. Easy to find. Bond got quickly out of the car and slid down the shallow bank. It was dark and cool under the arch. There were the shadows of fish in the slow, clear, pebbled water. Bond searched the edge of the masonry near the grass verge. Exactly in the centre, below the road, there was a patch of thick grass against the wall. Bond parted the grass. There was a sprinkling of freshly turned earth. Bond dug with his fingers.

There was only one. It was smooth to the touch and brick-shaped. It needed some strength to lift it. Bond brushed the earth off the dull yellow metal and wrapped the heavy bar in his handkerchief. He held the bar under his coat and climbed back up the bank on to the empty road.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

'IF YOU TOUCH ME THERE...'

BOND FELT pleased with himself. A whole lot of people were going to get very angry with Goldfinger. You can do a lot of dirty work with twenty thousand pounds. Now plans would have to be altered, conspiracies postponed, perhaps even lives saved. And, if it ever got to an inquiry by SMERSH, which was unlikely as they were the sort of realistic people who cut their losses, it could only be assumed that some sheltering tramp had found the gold bar.

Bond lifted the secret flap under the passenger seat and slipped the bar inside. Dangerous stuff. He would have to contact the next station of the Service and hand it over to them. They would get it back to London in the Embassy bag. Bond would have to report this quickly. It confirmed a lot. M might even want to warn the Deuxieme and have the bridge watched to see who came. But Bond hoped that would not happen. He didn't want a scare started just when he was getting close to Goldfinger. He wanted the skies over Gold-finger to be blue and clear.

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