Diamonds Are Forever Page 23

After this ceremony, there was dead silence in the small white-tiled room except for the soft clacking of the scissors round Bond’s head and the occasional ting as the manicurist dropped an instrument into her enamel bowl. And then there was a soft creaking as the head barber carefully wound the handle of the customer’s chair so that it came upright.

“How’s that, Sir?” said Bond’s barber holding a hand-minor

behind his head.

It was as Bond was inspecting the back of his head that it happened.

Perhaps, with the changing elevation of the chair, the girl’s hand slipped, but there was suddenly a muffled roar and the man in the purple dressing-gown sprang out of his chair, tore the towels off his face and plunged a finger into his mouth. Then he took it out and bent quickly down and slapped the girl hard across the cheek so that she was knocked off her stool and the enamel bowl of instruments went flying across the room. The man straightened himself and turned a furious face on the barber.

“Fire that bitch,” he snarled. He put the hurt finger back in his mouth and his slippers crunched amongst the scattered instruments as he strode blindly out of the door and disappeared.

“Yes, Sir, Mr Spang,” said the barber in a stunned voice. He started to bawl-out the sobbing girl. Bond turned his head and said quietly, “Stop that.” He got up from his chair and unwrapped the towel from round his neck.

The barber gave him a surprised glance. Then he said quickly, “Yes, Sir, Mister,” and bent to help the girl gather up her instruments.

While Bond paid for his haircut he heard the kneeling girl say plaintively: “It weren’t my fault, Mister Lucian. He was nervous today. His hands were trembling. Honest they were. Ain’t never seen him like that before. Tension, sort of.”

And Bond had had a moment of pleasure at the thought of Mr Spang’s tension.

Ernie Cureo’s voice broke sharply in on his thoughts. “We got ourselves a tail, Mister,” he said out of the corner of his mouth. “Two of ‘em. Fore an’ aft. Don’t look back. See that black Chewy sedan in front? With the two guys. They got two driving mirrors and they been watching us and keeping step for quite a whiles. Back of us there’s a little red sex-ship. Old sports model Jag with a rumble seat. Two more guys. With golf clubs in the back. But it just happens I know them guys. Detroit Purple Mob. Coupla lavender boys. You know, pansies. Golf ain’t their game. The only irons they can handle are in their pockets. Just swivel y’eyes round as if you was admiring the scenery. Watch their gunhands while I try ‘em out. Ready?”

Bond did as he was told. The driver put his foot on the accelerator and simultaneously turned off the ignition switch. The exhaust let go like an .88 millimetre and Bond saw the two right hands dive into the two brightly-coloured sports jackets. Bond casually turned his head back. “You’re right,” he said. He paused. “Better let me out, Ernie. I don’t want to get you into trouble.”

“Shucks,” said the driver disgustedly. “They can’t do nuthen to me. Ya pay for any damage to the cab, and I’ll try and shake ‘em. Okay?”

Bond took a 1000-dollar bill out of his note-case and leant over and stuffed it into the pocket of the driver’s shirt. “There’s a Grand to go on with,” he said. “And thanks, Ernie. Let’s see what you can do.”

Bond slipped his Beretta out of the holster and cradled it in his hand. This, he thought to himself, was just what he had been waiting for.

“Okay, feller,” said the driver cheerfully. “I been looking for a chance to take a poke at the gang. I don’t like being leant on and they been leaning on me and some of my friends for too long. Hold tight. Let’s go.”

It was a straight stretch of road with not much traffic about. The distant tops of the mountains were yellow in the setting sun and the street was beginning to get blue with the fifteen minutes of dusk when you can’t make up your mind whether to switch on your lights.

They were riding easily along at forty with the low-slung Jaguar right on their tail and the black sedan a block ahead of them. Suddenly, so that Bond pitched forward, Ernie Cureo put his brakes full on and dry-skidded to a stop with a scream of his tyres. There was a shattering splinter of metal and glass as the Jaguar hit their fenders. The cab lurched forward against its brakes and then the driver jammed it into gear and, with a horrible tearing of iron, freed himself from the smashed radiator of the car behind and accelerated away down the road.

“That’s—ed them proper,” said Ernie Cureo with satisfaction. “How they making out?”

“Bust radiator grill,” said Bond, watching out of the rear window. “Both front wings flattened. Fender hanging off. Windshield starred, maybe broken.” He lost the car in the dusk and turned round. “They’re out on the road trying to pull the front wings off the tyres. They may be able to go before long, but it was a good start. Got any more like that?”

“Not so easy now,” grunted the driver. “War’s been declared. Watch it. Better get down. The Chevvy’s pulled up at the side of the road. They may try some shootin’. Here we go.”

Bond felt the car surge forward. Ernie Cureo was half lying along the front seat, driving with one hand and with his eyes watching the road ahead from just above the dash.

There was a clang and two sharp cracks as they flashed past the Chevrolet. A handful of safety glass showered round Bond. Ernie Cureo swore and the car gave a swerve and then got back on its course.

Bond knelt on the back seat and knocked out the glass of the rear window with the butt of his gun. The Chevrolet was coming after them, its eyes blazing.

“Hold it,” said Cureo with an odd muffled voice. “Coin’ to do a sharp turn and stop under cover of the next block. Give y’a a clear shot as they come round after us.”

Bond braced himself as the tyres screamed and the car lurched on two wheels and then righted itself and stopped. Then he was out of the door and crouching with his gun up. The lights of the Chevrolet tore into the side road and there was a squeal of tortured rubber as it made the turn on the wrong side. Now, thought Bond, before he can straighten up.

Crack-a pause. Crack. Crack. Crack. Four bullets, at twenty yards, dead on the target.

The Chevrolet didn’t straighten up. It went over the kerb on the other side of the road, hit a tree broadside, bounced off it and smashed into a lamp standard and turned completely round and slowly toppled over on its side.

As Bond watched it, waiting for the echoes of the smashing metal to stop ringing in his ears, flames started to bleed slowly from the chromium mouth of the car. Someone was scrabbling at a window, trying to get out. At any moment the flames would find the vacuum pump and run the whole length of the chassis to the tank. And then it would be too late for the man inside.

Bond had started across the road when there was a groan from the front seat of the cab and he turned round to see Ernie Cureo slip from under the wheel to the floor. Bond forgot the burning car as he tore open the door of the cab and leant over the driver. There was blood everywhere and the whole of the driver’s left arm was soaked in it. Bond somehow hauled him into a sitting position on the seat and the driver’s eyes opened. “Oh, brother,” he said through clenched teeth. “Get me out of here, Mister, and drive like hell. Next thing that Jag’ll be after us. Then get me to a medic.”

“Okay, Ernie,” said Bond slipping behind the wheel. “I’ll take care of it.” He rammed the car into gear and moved fast off down the road and away from the blazing pyre and the frightened people who had materialized out of the dusk and were standing watching the flames, their hands up to their mouths.

“Keep goin’,” muttered Ernie Cureo. “This’ll get you near the Boulder Dam road. See anything in the mirror?”

“There’s a low-slung car with a spotlight coming after us fast,” said Bond. “Could be the Jag. About two blocks away now.” He stamped on the accelerator and the cab hissed through the deserted side street.

“Keep goin’,” said Ernie Cureo. “We gotta hide up some place and let them lose us. Tell ya what. There’s a ‘Passion Pit” just where this comes out on 95. Drive-in movie. Here we come. Slow. Sharp right. See those lights. Get in there quick. Right. Straight over the sand and between those cars. Off lights. Easy. Stop.”

The cab came to rest in the back row of half a dozen ranks of cars lined up to face the concrete screen that soared up into the sky and on which a huge man was just saying something to a huge girl.

Bond turned and looked back down the lanes of metal standards, like parking meters, from which speakers could be connected wthi your car to pick up the sound. As he watched, one or two cars drove in and ranged themselves in the rear rank. Nothing low enough for a Jaguar. But it was dark now and difficult to see and he stayed slewed round in his seat, his eyes on the entrance.

An attendant came up, a pretty girl, dressed as a pageboy, with a tray slung round her neck. “That’ll be a dollar,” she said, glancing into the car to see there was not a third customer on the floor of the cab. She had pick-ups coiled over her right arm and she took one off, plugged it into the nearest standard and hung the small speaker through the window on Bond’s side. The huge man and woman on the screen started talking heatedly.

“Coco-Cola, cigarettes, candy?” asked the girl taking the note Bond handed her.

“No, thanks,” said Bond.

“You’re welcome,” said the girl and sauntered off towards the other late arrivals.

“Mister, for Chrissake willya switch off that crap?” pleaded Ernie Cureo through his teeth. “And keep watching. We’ll give ‘em a whiles more. Then get me to a doc. Dig out the slug.” His voice was weak and now that the girl had gone he was half-lying with his head against the door.

“Won’t be long, Ernie. Try and stick it.” Bond fiddled with the speaker, found the switch and silenced the wrangling voices. The huge man on the screen looked as if he was going to hit the woman and her mouth gaped in a noiseless scream.

Bond turned and strained his eyes across the dark expanse behind them. Still nothing. He glanced at the neighbouring cars. Two faces glued together. A shapeless huddle on a back seat. Two prim, rapt, elderly faces staring upwards. The glint of light on an upturned bottle.

And then a wave of musky after-shave lotion came up to his nose and a dark figure rose up from the ground and a gun was in his face, and a voice on the other side of the car beside Ernie Cureo whispered softly, “Okay, fellers. Take it easy.”

Bond looked into the suety face beside him. The eyes were smiling and cold. The wet lips parted and whispered “Out, Limey, or your pal’s cold turkey. My friend has a silencer. You and we’re goin’ for a ride.”

Bond turned his head and saw the black sausage of metal against the back of Ernie Cureo’s neck. He made up his mind. “Okay, Ernie,” he said, “better one than two. I’ll go with them. I’ll soon be back to get you to the doc. Take care of yourself.”

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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