Behind him he felt the guard throw himself at the door, but Bond had his back to it and it held. The man, ten feet away behind the desk, within easy range for the knife, called out something, an order, a cheerful, gay order in some language Bond had never heard. The pressure on the door ceased. The man smiled a wide, a charming smile that cracked his creased walnut of a face in two. He got to his feet and slowly raised his hands. 'I surrender. And I am now a much bigger target. But do not kill me, I beg of you. At least not until we have had a stiff whisky and soda and a talk. Then I will give you the choice again. OK?'
Bond rose to his full height. He smiled back. He couldn't help it. The man had such a delightful face, so lit with humour and mischief and magnetism that, at least in the man's present role, Bond could no more have killed him than he could have killed, well, Tracy.
There was a calendar hanging on the wall beside the man. Bond wanted to let off steam against something, anything. He said,' September the sixteenth,' and jerked his right hand forward hi the underhand throw. The knife flashed across the room, missed the man by about a yard, and stuck, quivering, half-way down the page of the calendar.
The man turned and looked inquisitively at the calendar. He laughed out loud. 'Actually the fifteenth. But quite respectable. I must set you against my men one of these days. And I might even bet on you. It would teach them a lesson.'
He came out from behind his desk, a smallish, middle-aged man with a brown, crinkled face. He was dressed in the sort of comfortable dark blue suit Bond himself wore. The chest and the arms bulged with muscle. Bond noticed the fullness of the cut of the coat under the arm-pits. Built for guns? The man held out a hand. It was warm and firm and dry. 'Marc-Ange Draco is my name. You have heard of it?'
'Aha! But I have heard of yours. It is Commander James Bond. You have a decoration called the CMG. You are a member, an important member, of Her Majesty's Secret Service. You have been taken off your usual duties and you are on temporary assignment abroad.' The impish face creased with delight.'Yes?'
James Bond, to cover his confusion, walked across to the calendar, verified that he had in fact pierced the fifteenth, pulled out the knife and slipped it back in his trouser pocket. He turned and said, 'What makes you think so?'
The man didn't answer. He said, 'Come. Come and sit down. I have much to talk to you about. But first the whisky and soda. Yes?' He indicated a comfortable armchair across the desk from his own, put in front of it a large silver box containing various kinds of cigarettes, and went to a metal filing cabinet against the wall and opened it. It contained no files. It was a complete and compact bar. With efficient, housekeeperly movements he took out a bottle of Pinchbottle Haig, another of I. W. Harper's Bourbon, two pint glasses that looked like Waterford, a bucket of ice cubes, a siphon of soda and a flagon of iced water. One by one he placed these on the desk between his chair and Bond's. Then, while Bond poured himself a stiff Bourbon and water with plenty of ice, he went and sat down across the desk from Bond, reached for the Haig and said, looking Bond very directly in the eye, 'I learned who you are from a good friend in the Deuxieme in Paris. He is paid to give me such information when I want it. I learned it very early this morning. I am in the opposite camp to yourself - not directly opposite. Let us say at a tangent on the field.' He paused. He lifted his glass. He said with much seriousness, 'I am now going to establish confidence with you. By the only means. I am going once again to place my life in your hands.'
He drank. So did Bond. In the filing cabinet, in its icebox, the hum of the generator broke in on what Bond suddenly knew was going to be an important moment of truth. He didn't know what the truth was going to be. He didn't think it was going to be bad. But he had an instinct that, somehow, perhaps because he had conceived respect and affection for this man, it was going to mean deep involvement for himself.
The generator stopped.
The eyes in the walnut face held his.
'I am the head of the Union Corse.'
THE UNION CORSE! Now at least some of the mystery was explained. Bond looked across the desk into the brown eyes that were now shrewdly watching his reactions while his mind flicked through the file that bore the innocent title, "The Union Corse', more deadly and perhaps even older than the Unione Siciliano, the Mafia. He knew that it controlled most organized crime throughout metropolitan France and her colonies - protection rackets, smuggling, prostitution and the suppression of rival gangs. Only a few months ago a certain Rossi had been shot dead in a bar in Nice. A year before that, a Jean Giudicelli had been liquidated after several previous attempts had failed. Both these men had been known pretenders to the throne of Capu - the ebullient, cheerful man who now sat so peacefully across the table from Bond. Then there was this mysterious business of Rommel's treasure, supposed to be hidden beneath the sea somewhere off Bastia. In 1948 a Czech diver called Fleigh, who had been in the Abwehr, and had got on the track of it, was warned off by the Union and then vanished off the face of the earth. Quite recently the body of a young French diver, Andre Mattei, was found riddled with bullets by the roadside near Bastia. He had foolishly boasted in the local bars that he knew the whereabouts of the treasure and had come to dive for it. Did Marc-Ange know the secret of this treasure? Had he been responsible for the killing of these two divers? The little village of Calenzana in the Balagne boasted of having produced more gangsters than any other village in Corsica and of being in consequence one of the most prosperous. The local mayor had held office for fifty-six years - the longest reigning mayor in France. Marc-Ange would surely be a son of that little community, know the secrets of that famous mayor, know, for instance, of that big American gangster who had just returned to discreet retirement in the village after a highly profitable career in the States.
It would be fun to drop some of these names casually in this quiet little room - fun to tell Marc-Ange that Bond knew of the old abandoned jetty called the Port of Crovani near the village of Galeria, and of the ancient silver mine called Argentella in the hills behind, whose maze of underground tunnels accommodates one of the great world junctions in the heroin traffic. Yes, it would be fun to frighten his captor in exchange for the fright he had given Bond. But better keep this ammunition in reserve until more had been revealed! For the time being it was interesting to note that this was Marc-Ange Draco's travelling headquarters. His contact in the Deuxieme Bureau would be an essential tip-off man. Bond and the girl had been'sent for' for some purpose that was still to be announced. The 'borrowing' of the Bombard rescue-boat would have been a simple matter of finance in the right quarter, perhaps accompanied by a 'pot de vin' for the coastguards to look the other way. The guards were Corsicans. On reflection, that was anyway what they looked like. The whole operation was simple for an organization as powerful as the Union - as simple in France as it would have been for the Mafia in most of Italy. And now for more veils to be lifted! James Bond sipped his drink and watched the other man's face with respect. This was one of the great professionals of the world!
(How typical of Corsica, Bond thought, that their top bandit should bear the name of an angel! He remembered that two other famous Corsican gangsters had been called 'Gracieux' and 'Toussaint' - 'All-Saints'.) Marc-Ange spoke. He spoke excellent but occasionally rather clumsy English, as if he had been well taught but had little occasion to use the language. He said, 'My dear Commander, everything I am going to discuss with you will please remain behind your Herkos Odonton. You know the ex-, pression? No?' The wide smile lit up his face. 'Then, if I may say so, your education was incomplete. It is from the classical Greek. It means literally “the hedge of the teeth”.
It was the Greek equivalent of your “top secret”. Is that agreed?'
Bond shrugged. 'If you tell me secrets that affect my profession, I'm afraid I shall have to pass them on.'
'That I fully comprehend. What I wish to discuss is a personal matter. It concerns my daughter, Teresa.'
Good God! The plot was indeed thickening! Bond concealed his surprise. He said, 'Then I agree.' He smiled, '“Herkos Odonton” it is.'
'Thank you. You are a man to trust. You would have to be, in your profession, but I see it also in your face. Now then.' He lit a Caporal and sat back in his chair. He gazed at a point on the aluminium wall above Bond's head, only occasionally looking into Bond's eyes when he wished to emphasize a point. 'I was married once only, to an English girl, an English governess. She was a romantic. She had come to Corsica to look for bandits ' - he smiled - 'rather like some English women adventure into the desert to look for sheiks. She explained to me later that she must have been possessed by a subconscious desire to be raped. Well' - this time he didn't smile -'she found me in the mountains and she was raped - by me. The police were after me at the time, they have been for most of my life, and the girl was a grave encumbrance. But for some reason she refused to leave me. There was a wildness in her, a love of the unconventional, and, for God knows what reason, she liked the months of being chased from cave to cave, of getting food by robbery at night. She even learned to skin and cook a moufflon, those are our mountain sheep, and even eat the animal, which is tough as shoe leather and about as palatable. And in those crazy months, I came to love this girl and I smuggled her away from the island to Marseilles and married her.' He paused and looked at Bond.' The result, my dear Commander, was Teresa, my only child.'
So, thought Bond. That explained the curious mixture the girl was - the kind of wild 'lady' that was so puzzling in her. What a complex of bloods and temperaments! Corsican English. No wonder he hadn't been able to define her nationality.
'My wife died ten years ago ' - Marc-Ange held up his hand, not wanting sympathy - 'and I had the girl's education finished in Switzerland. I was already rich and at that time I was elected Capu, that is chief, of the Union, and became infinitely richer - by means, my dear Commander, which you can guess but need not inquire into. The girl was - how do you say? - that charming expression, “the apple of my eye”, and I gave her all she wanted. But she was a wild one, a wild bird, without a proper home, or, since I was always on the move, without proper supervision. Through her school in Switzerland, she entered the fast international set that one reads of in the newspapers - the South American millionaires, the Indian princelings, the Paris English and Americans, the playboys of Cannes and Gstaad. She was always getting in and out of scrapes and scandals, and when I remonstrated with her, cut off her allowance, she would commit some even grosser folly - to spite me, I suppose.' He paused and looked at Bond and now there was a terrible misery in the happy face. 'And yet all the while, behind her bravado, the mother's side of her blood was making her hate herself, despise herself more and more, and as I now see it, the worm of self-destruction had somehow got a hold inside her and, behind the wild, playgirl facade, was eating away what I can only describe as her soul.' He looked at Bond.' You know that this can happen, my friend - to men and to women. They burn the heart out of themselves by living too greedily, and suddenly they examine their lives and see that they are worthless. They have had everything, eaten all the sweets of life at one great banquet, and there is nothing left. She made what I now see was a desperate attempt to get back on the rails, so to speak. She went off, without telling me, and married, perhaps with the idea of settling down. But the man, a worthless Italian called Vicenzo, Count Giulio di Vicenzo, took as much of her money as he could lay his hands on and deserted her, leaving her with a girl child. I purchased a divorce and bought a small chateau for my daughter in the Dordogne and installed her there, and for once, with the baby and a pretty garden to look after, she seemed almost at peace. And then, my friend, six months ago, the baby died - died of that most terrible of all children's ailments, spinal meningitis.'