Diamonds Are Forever Page 21

But, reflected Bond, it could only be a trap for peculiarly insensitive mice-mice who would be tempted by the coarsest cheese. It was an inelegant trap, obvious and vulgar, and the noise of the machines had a horrible mechanical ugliness which beat at the brain. It was like the steady clanking of the engines of some old iron freighter on its way to the knacker’s yard, un-oiled, uncared for, condemned.

And the gamblers stood and tore at the handles of the machines as if they hated what they were doing. And, once they had seen their fate in the small glass window, they didn’t wait for the wheels to stop spinning but rammed in another coin and reached up a right arm that knew exactly where to go. Crank-clatter-ting. Crank-clatter-ting.

And, when there was the occasional silvery waterfall, the metal cup would overflow with coins and the gambler would have to go down on her knees to scrabble about under the machines for a rolling coin. For, as Leiter had said, they were mostly women, elderly women of the prosperous housewife class, and the droves of them stood at the banks of machines like hens in an egg battery, conditioned by the delicious coolness of the room and the music of the spinning wheels, to go on laying it on the line until their wad was gone.

Then, as Bond watched, a change-girl’s voice bawled “Jackpot!” and some of the women raised their heads and the picture changed. Now they reminded Bond of Dr Pavlov’s dogs, the saliva drooling down from their jaws at the treacherous bell that brought no dinner, and he shuddered at the thought of the empty eyes of these women and their skins and their wet half-open mouths and their bruised hands.

Bond turned his back on the scene and sipped at his Martini, listening with half his mind to the music from the famous-name-band at the end of the room next to the half-dozen shops. Over one of the shops there was a pale blue neon sign which said ‘The House of Diamonds’. Bond beckoned to the barman. “Mr Spang been around tonight?”

“Ain’t seen him,” said the barman. “Mostly comes in after the first show. Around eleven. You know him?”

“Not personally.”

Bond paid his check and drifted over to the blackjack tables. He stopped at the centre one. This one would be his. At exactly five minutes past ten. He glanced at his watch. Eight-thirty.

The table was a small, flat kidney of green baize. Eight players sat on high stools facing the dealer, who stood with his stomach against the edge of the table and dealt two cards into the eight numbered spaces on the cloth in front of the stakes. The stakes were mostly five or- ten silver dollars, or counters worth twenty. The dealer was a man of about forty. He had a pleasant half-smile on his face. He wore the dealer’s uniform-white shirt buttoned at the wrists, a thin black Western gambler’s tie, a green eyeshade, black trousers. The front of the trousers was protected from rubbing against the table by a small green baize apron. ‘Jake’ was embroidered in one corner.

The dealer dealt and handled the stakes with unruffled smoothness. There was no talk at the table except when a player ordered a ‘courtesy’ drink or cigarettes from one of the waitresses in black silk pyjamas who circulated in the central space inside the ring of tables. From this central space, the run of the play was watched over by two tough lynx-eyed pit-bosses with guns at their waists.

The game was quick and efficient and dull. It was as dull and mechanical as the slot machines. Bond watched for a while and then moved away towards the doors marked ‘Smoking Room” and ‘Powder Room’ on the far side of the Casino. On his way he passed four ‘Sheriffs’ in smart grey Western uniform. The legs of their trousers were tucked into half-Wellingtons. These men were standing about unobtrusively, looking at nothing but seeing everything. At each hip they carried a gun in an open holster and the polished brass of fifty cartridges shone at their belts.

Plenty of protection around, thought Bond, as he pushed his way through the swing door of the ‘Smoking Room’. Inside, on the tiled wall, was a notice which said, ‘Stand up Closer. It’s Shorter than you Think’. Western humour! Bond wondered if he dared include it in his next written report to M. He decided it would not appeal. He went out and walked back through the tables to the door beneath a neon sign which said ‘The Opal Room’.

The low circular restaurant in pink and white and grey was half full. The ‘Hostess’ swept over and piloted him to a corner table. She bent over to arrange the flowers in the middle of the table and to show him that her fine bosom was at least half real, gave him a gracious smile and went away. After ten minutes, a waitress with a tray appeared and put a roll on his plate and a square of butter. She also set down a dish containing olives and some celery lined with orange cheese. Then a second and older waitress bustled over and gave him the menu and said “Be right with you”.

Twenty minutes after he had sat down, Bond was able to order a dozen cherrystone clams and a steak, and, since he expected a further long pause, a second Vodka dry Martini. “The wine waiter will be right over,” said the waitress primly and disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.

‘Long on courtesy and short on service’, reflected Bond, and resigned himself to the gracious ritual.

“During the excellent dinner that finally materialized, Bond wondered about the evening ahead and about how he could force the pace of his assignment. He was thoroughly bored with his role as a probationary crook who was about to be paid off for his first trial job and might then, if he found favour in the eyes of Mr Spang, be given regular work with the rest-of the teenage adults who made up the gang. It irked him not to have the initiative-to be ordered to Saratoga and then to this hideous sucker-trap at the say-so of a handful of big-time hoodlums. Here he was, eating their dinner and sleeping in their bed, while they watched him, James Bond, and weighed him up and debated whether his hand was steady enough, his appearance trustworthy enough and his health adequate to some sleazy job in one of their rackets.

Bond munched his steak as if it was Mr Seraffimo Spang’s fingers and cursed the day he had taken on this idiotic role. But then he paused and went on eating more calmly. What the hell was he worrying about? This was a big assignment which so far had gone well. And now he had penetrated right to the end of the pipeline, right into the parlour of Mr Seraffimo Spang who, with his brother in London, and with the mysterious ABC, ran the biggest smuggling operation in the world. What did Bond’s feelings matter? It was only a moment of self-disgust, a touch of nausea brought on by being a stranger who had spent too many days too close to these sordidly powerful American gangs, too close to the gunpowder-scented ‘gracious life’ of gangland aristocracy.

The truth of the matter, Bond decided over coffee, was that he felt homesick for his real identity. He shrugged his shoulders. To hell with the Spangs and the hood-ridden town of Las Vegas. He looked at his watch. It was just ten o’clock. He lit a cigarette and got to his feet and walked slowly across the room and out into the Casino.

There were two ways of playing the rest of the game, by lying low and waiting for something to happen-or by forcing the pace so that something had to happen.



THE scene in the big gambling room had changed. It was much quieter. The orchestra had gone, and so had the droves of women, and there were only a few players at the tables. There were two or three ’shills’ at the roulette, attractive girls in smart evening dresses who had been given fifty dollars with which to warm up the dead tables, and there was a very drunk man clinging on to the high surrounding wall of one of the crap tables and shouting exhortations to the dice.

And something else had changed. The dealer at the centre blackjack table nearest the bar was Tiffany Case.

So that was her job at The Tiara.

And then Bond saw that all the blackjack dealers were pretty women and that they were all dressed in the same smart Western outfit in grey and black-short grey skirt with a wide black metal-studded belt, grey blouse with a black handkerchief round the neck, a grey sombrero hanging down the back by a black cord, black half-Wellingtons over flesh-coloured nylons.

Bond looked at his watch again and moved slowly into the room. So Tiffany was going to false-deal him to win five thousand dollars. And of course they had chosen the moment when she had just come on duty and the first show of the big-name revue was still running in The Platinum Room. He would be alone with her at the table. No witnesses in case she muffed a deal from the bottom of the pack.

At exactly 10.5 Bond strolled easily up to the table and sat down facing her.

“Good evening.”

“Hi.” She gave him a thin, correct smile.

“What’s the maximum?”

“A Grand.”

As Bond slapped the ten l00-dollar notes down across the betting line, the pit-boss strolled over and stood beside Tiffany Case. He barely glanced at Bond. “Mebbe the guy would like a new deck, Miss Tiffany,” he said. He handed her a fresh pack.

The girl stripped the cover off it and handed him the used cards.

The pit-boss stood back a few paces and appeared to lose interest.

The girl snapped the pack with a fluid motion of the hands, broke it and put the two halves flat on the table and executed what appeared to be a faultless Scarne shuffle. But Bond saw that the two halves did not quite marry and that when she lifted the pack off the table and carried out an innocent reshuffle she would be getting the two halves of the pack back into their original order. She repeated the manoeuvre again and put the pack down in front of Bond in an invitation to cut. Bond cut the cards and watched with approval as she carried out the difficult single-handed Annulment, one of the hardest gambits in card-sharping.

So the ‘new’ deck was fixed and the only result of all this fair play routine was to get all the cards back into the order in which they were arranged when they left the wrappers. But it was brilliant manipulation and Bond was full of admiration for the assurance of the girl’s hands.

He looked up into her grey eyes. Was there a hint of complicity in them, a hint of amusement at the odd game they were playing across the narrow green board?

She dealt him two cards and then gave two to herself. Suddenly Bond realized that he would have to be careful. He must play the exactly conventional game or he might upset the whole sequence in which the cards had been prepared.

Printed across the table were the words ‘The Dealer Must Draw on Sixteen and Stand on Seventeen’. They would presumably have given him fool-proof winning cards, but just in case there was another player or a kibitzer, they would have to make his winning seem a natural run of luck and not, for instance, just deal him twenty-one each time and seventeens to the girl.

He glanced at his two cards. A knave and a ten. He looked up at the girl and shook his head. She turned up sixteen and drew a card, busting herself with a king. She had a rack beside her which contained only silver dollars and counters for twenty, but the pit-boss was quickly at her side with a 1000-dollar plaque. She took it and tossed it over to Bond. He put it over the line and pocketed his notes. She flipped out two more cards to him and two to herself. Bond had seventeen and again shook his head. She had twelve and drew a three and then a nine-twenty-four and bust again. Again the pit-boss stepped up with a plaque. Bond slipped it into his pocket and left his original stake. This time he had nineteen and she turned up a ten and seven on which, by the rule, she had to stand. Another plaque went into Bond’s pocket.

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