Bond turned and faced the couple under the clock. He said cheerfully, 'Well, Blofeld, you mad bastard. I'll admit that your effects man down below knows his stuff. Now bting on the twelve she-devils and if they're all as beautiful as Fraulein Bunt, we'll get Noel Coward to put it to music and have it on Broadway by Christmas. How about it?'

Blofeld turned to Irma Bunt. 'My dear girl, you were right! It is indeed the same Britischer. Remind me to buy you another string of the excellent Mr Mikimoto's grey pearls. And now let us be finished with this man once and for all. It is beyond our bedtime.'

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'Yes indeed, lieber Ernst. But first he must speak.'

'Of course, Irmchen. But that can be quickly done. We have already broken his first reserves. The second line of defence will be routine. Come!'

Back up the stone passage! Back into the library! Irma Bunt back to her petit point, Blofeld back to his stance by the mantelpiece, his hand resting lightly on the boss of his great sword. It was just as if they had returned after taking part in some gracious after-dinner entertainment: a game of billiards, a look at the stamp albums, a dull quarter of an hour with the home movies. Bond decided: to hell with the Fukuoka miner! There was a writing-desk next to the bookshelves. He pulled out its chair and sat down. There were cigarettes and matches. He lit up and sat back, inhaling luxuriously. Might as well make oneself comfortable before one went for The Big Sleep! He tapped his ash on to the carpet and crossed one knee over the other.

Blofeld pointed to the pile of Bond's possessions on the floor. 'Kono, take those away. I will examine them later. And you can wait with the guards in the outer hall. Prepare the blowlamp and the electrical machine for further examination in case it should be necessary.' He turned to Bond. 'And now -talk and you will receive an honourable and quick death by the sword. Have no misgivings. I am expert with it and it is razor-sharp. If you do not talk, you will die slowly and horribly and you will talk just the same. You know from your profession that this is so. There is a degree of prolonged suffering that no human can withstand. Well?'

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Bond said easily, 'Blofeld, you were never stupid. Many people in London and Tokyo know of my presence here tonight. At this moment, you might argue your way out of a capital charge. You have a lot of money and you could engage the best lawyers. But, if you kill me, you will certainly die.'

'Mister Bond, you are not telling the truth. I know the ways of officialdom as well as you do. Therefore I dismiss your story in its entirety and without hesitation. If my presence here was officially known, a small army of policemen would have been sent to arrest me. And they would have been accompanied by a senior member of the CIA on whose WANTED list I certainly feature. This is an American sphere of influence. You might have been allowed to interview me subsequent to my arrest, but an Englishman would not have featured in the initial police action.'

'Who said this was police action? When, in England, I heard rumours about this place, I thought the whole project smelled of you. I obtained permission to come and have a look. But my whereabouts is known and retribution will result if I do not return.'

'That does not follow, Mister Bond. There will be no trace of your ever having seen me, no trace of your entry into the property. I happen to have certain information that fits in with your presence here. One of my agents recently reported that the Head of the Japanese Secret Service, the Koan-Chosa-Kyoku, a certain Tanaka, came down in this direction accompanied by a foreigner dressed as a Japanese. I now see that your appearance tallies with my agent's description.'

'Where is this man? I would like to question him.'

'He is not available.'

'Very convenient.'

A red fire began to burn deep in the black pools of Blofeld's eyes. 'You forget that it is not I who am being interrogated, Mister Bond. It is you. Now, I happen to know all about this Tanaka. He is a totally ruthless man, and I will hazard a guess that fits the facts and that is made almost into a certitude by your crude evasions. This man Tanaka has already lost one senior agent whom he sent down here to investigate me. You were available, on some business concerned with your profession, perhaps, and, for a consideration, or in exchange for a favour, you agreed to come here and kill me, thus tidying up a situation which is causing some embarrassment to the Japanese Government. I do not know or care when you learned that Doctor Guntram Shatterhand was in fact Ernst Stavro Blofeld. You have your private reasons for wanting to kill me, and I have absolutely no doubt that you kept your knowledge to yourself and passed it on to no one for fear that the official action I have described would take the place of your private plans for revenge.' Blofeld paused. He said softly, 'I have one of the greatest brains in the world, Mister Bond. Have you anything to say in reply? As the Americans say, “It had better be good.”'

Bond took another cigarette and lit it. He said composedly, 'I stick to the truth, Blofeld. If anything happens to me, you, and probably the woman as an accessory, will be dead by Christmas.'

'All right, Mister Bond. But I am so sure of my facts that I am now going to kill you with my own hands and dispose of your body without more ado. On reflection, I would rather do it myself than have it done slowly by the guards. You have been a thorn in my flesh for too long. The account I have to settle with you is a personal one. Have you ever heard the Japanese expression “kirisute gomen”?'

Bond groaned. 'Spare me the Lafcadio Hearn, Blofeld!'

'It dates from the time of the samurai. It means literally “killing and going away”. If a low person hindered the

samurai's passage along the road or failed to show him proper respect, the samurai was within his rights to lop off the man's head. I regard myself as a latter-day samurai. My fine sword has not yet been blooded. Yours will be an admirable head to cut its teeth on.' He turned to Irma Bunt. 'You agree, mein Liebchen?'

The square wardress face looked up from its petit point. 'But of course, lieber Ernst. What you decide is always correct. But be careful. This animal is dangerous.'

'You forget, mein Liebchen. Since last January he has ceased to be an animal. By a simple stroke of surgery on the woman he loved, I reduced him to human dimensions.'

The dominant, horrific figure stood away from the mantelpiece and took up his sword.

'Let me show you.'

20

BLOOD AND THUNDER

BOND dropped his lighted cigarette and left it to smoulder on the carpet. His whole body tensed. He said, 'I suppose you know you're both mad as hatters.'

'So was Frederick the Great, so was Nietzsche, so was Van Gogh. We are in good, in illustrious company, Mister Bond. On the other hand, what are you? You are a common thug, a blunt instrument wielded by dolts in high places. Having done what you are told to do, out of some mistaken idea of duty or patriotism, you satisfy your brutish instincts with alcohol, nicotine and sex while waiting to be dispatched on the next misbegotten foray. Twice before, your Chief has sent you to do battle with me, Mister Bond, and, by a combination of luck and brute force, you were successful in destroying two projects of my genius. You and your government would categorize these projects as crimes against humanity, and various authorities still seek to bring me to book for them. But try and summon such wits as you possess, Mister Bond, and see them in a realistic light and in the higher realm of my own thinking.'

Blofeld was a big man, perhaps six foot three, and powerfully built. He placed the tip of the samurai sword, which has almost the blade of the scimitar, between his straddled feet, and rested his sinewy hands on its boss. Looking up at him from across the room, Bond had to admit that there was something larger than life in the looming, imperious figure, in the hypnotically direct stare of the eyes, in the tall white brow, in the cruel downward twist of the thin lips. The square-cut, heavily draped kimono, designed to give the illusion of bulk to a race of smallish men, made something huge out of the towering figure, and the golden dragon embroidery, so easily to be derided as a childish fantasy, crawled menacingly across the black silk and seemed to spit real fire from over the left breast. Blofeld had paused in his harangue. Waiting for him to continue, Bond took the measure of his enemy. He knew what would be coming - justification. It was always so. When they thought they had got you where they wanted you, when they knew they were decisively on top, before the knock-out, even to an audience on the threshold of extinction, it was pleasant, reassuring to the executioner, to deliver his apologia - purge the sin he was about to commit. Blofeld, his hands relaxed on the boss of his sword, continued. The tone of his voice was reasonable, self-assured, quietly expository.

He said, 'Now, Mister Bond, take Operation Thunderball, as your Government dubbed it. This project involved the holding to ransom of the Western World by the acquisition by me of two atomic weapons. Where lies the crime in this, except in the Erewhon of international politics? Rich boys are playing with rich toys. A poor boy comes along and takes them and offers them back for money. If the poor boy had been successful, what a valuable by-product might have resulted for the whole world. These were dangerous toys which, in the poor boy's hands, or let us say, to discard the allegory, in the hands of a Castro, could lead to the wanton extinction of mankind. By my action, I gave a dramatic example for all to see. If I had been successful and the money had been handed over, might not the threat of a recurrence of my attempt have led to serious disarmament talks, to an abandonment of these dangerous toys that might so easily get into the wrong hands? You follow my reasoning? Then this recent matter of the bacteriological warfare attack on England. My dear Mister Bond, England is a sick nation by any standards. By hastening the sickness to the brink of death, might Britain not have been forced out of her lethargy into the kind of community effort we witnessed during the war? Cruel to be kind, Mister Bond. Where lies the great crime there? And now this matter of my so-called “Castle of Death”.' Blofeld paused and his eyes took on an inward look. He said, 'I will make a confession to you, Mister Bond. I have come to suffer from a certain lassitude of mind which I am determined to combat. This comes in part from being a unique genius who is alone in the world, without honour - worse, misunderstood. No doubt much of the root cause of this accidie is physical - liver, kidneys, heart, the usual weak points of the middle-aged. But there has developed in me a certain mental lameness, a disinterest in humanity and its future, an utter boredom with the affairs of mankind. So, not unlike the gourmet, with his jaded palate, I now seek only the highly spiced, the sharp impact on the taste buds, mental as well as physical, the tickle that is truly exquisite. And so, Mister Bond, I came to devise this useful and essentially humane project - the offer of free death to those who seek release from the burden of being alive. By doing so, I have not only provided the common man with a solution to the problem of whether to be or not to be, I have also provided the Japanese Government, though for the present they appear to be blind to my magnanimity, with a tidy, out-of-the-way charnel-house which relieves them of a constant flow of messy occurrences involving the trains, the trams, the volcanoes and other unattractively public means of killing yourself. You must admit that, far from being a crime, this is a public service unique in the history of the world.'

'I saw one man being disgustingly murdered yesterday.' 'Tidying up, Mister Bond. Tidying up. The man came here wishing to die. What you saw done was only helping a weak man to his seat on the boat across the Styx. But I can see that we have no contact. I cannot reach what serves you for a mind. For your part, you cannot see further than the simple gratification of your last cigarette. So enough of this idle chatter. You have already kept us from our beds far too long. Do you want to be hacked about in a vulgar brawl, or will you offer your neck in the honourable fashion?' Blofeld took a step forward and raised his mighty sword in both hands and held it above his head. The light from the oil lamps shimmered on the blade and showed up the golden filigree engraving.

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