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'He's arrived.' Bond grabbed at the first thing he could lay hands on: a sporting crossbow, heavily decorated, but refurbished, with a thick taut cord bound securely to a metal bow, the well-oiled mechanism including acranequin to pull back and latch the cord into place. Taking this and three sharp bolts which were arranged next to it, Bond motioned Tanner out of the room.
'Up to the hall,' he whispered. 'The light's not in his favour. He'll want to get hold of the stuff and be away fast. Pray G.o.d he'll take it all with him, and we can catch the b.a.s.t.a.r.d outside.'
There would be more chance in the open. Bond was sure of that. As they reached the hall, the noise of the descending helicopter became louder. It would be the little Bell Ranger, hovering and fluttering down behind the keep. Standing in the shadows, Bond strained his ears. If the pilot kept his engines running, 007 knew his theory would be right - that Murik planned to remain in the castle for only a short time, leaving quickly with whatever doc.u.ments he had cached there. But if the engine was stopped, they would have to take him inside the building.
Somewhere towards the back of the house, there was the scratch and squeak of a door. Murik was entering the same way that Bond and the Chief-of-Staff had come, by the tradesmen's entrance. Thank heaven for Tanner, whose wisdom had cautioned the locking of the door behind them. There was a click and then the sound of footsteps moving surely, as a man will move in complete darkness when he knows his house with the deep intimacy of years. The steps were short and quick: unmistakable to Bond. Murik Warlock - was home again.
From far away outside came the gentle buzz of the Bell Ranger's engine, which meant the pilot was almost certainly waiting, seated in his c.o.c.kpit. Bond signalled with the crossbow, and they set off silently in the direction of the door through which the Laird had returned. Outside it was almost fully light now, with only faint traces of cloud, pink from the reflected rising sun. The noise of the helicopter engine was loud, coming from behind the keep, to which Bond now pointed. Side by side, Tanner and Bond sought the edge of the old stone tower, black and bruised with age, to shelter behind one angled corner, from which they had a view of the castle's rear.
Bond bent to the task of turning the heavycranequin, panting at each twist of the wheel, as the steel bow drew back and its thick cord finally clicked into place. Raising the weapon skywards for safety, Bond slid one of the bolts into place. He had no idea of its accuracy, though there was no doubt of it being a lethal weapon.
The seven or eight minutes' wait seemed like a couple of hours. Then, with surprising suddenness, they heard footsteps fast on the gravel. Bond stepped from the cover, lifting the crossbow to his shoulder. Anton Murik was running hard, to their right, heading for the far side of the keep. In the left hand he held a thick and bulky oilskin package, while in his right he clutched at something Bond could not quite see. Squinting down the primitive crossbow sights, Bond shouted, 'Far enough, Murik. It's over now.'
The Laird of Murcaldy hardly paused, seeming to turn slightly towards Bond's voice, his right hand rising. There was a sharp crack followed by a high-pitched screaming hiss. A long spurt of fire streaked from Murik's hand, leaving a comet trail behind it, pa.s.sing so close between Bond and Tanner that they felt the heat from the projectile which hit the side of the keep with the thud of a sledgehammer. A whole block of the old stone cracked and splattered away, sending great shards flying. Tanner gave a little cry, clutching his cheek, where a section of sharp stone sliced through.
Bond knew immediately what Murik was using: a collector's item now, from the early 1950s, the M.B.A. Gyrojet Rocket pistol. This hand-held launcher fired high velocity mini-rockets, propelling payloads of heat-resistant steel like bright polished chrome. The 13mm. bullets, with their rocket propellant, were capable of penetrating thick steel plates. Bond had handled one, and recalled wondering what they would do to a man. He did not think twice about their efficiency. The Gyrojet pistol contained a magazine holding five rockets. He had a one-shot crossbow and no margin for error.
Bond did not hesitate. Before Murik - still running could hurl another rocket from his Gyrojet, he squeezed the trigger of the crossbow. The mechanism slammed forward, its power taking Bond by surprise. The solid noise of the mechanism drowned any hiss the bolt might have made through the air and was, in its turn, blotted out by Murik's cry as the heavy bolt speared the upper part of his chest.
Murik continued to run, as both Bond and Tanner started after him. Then he staggered and the Gyrojet pistol dropped on to the gravel. Swaying and weaving, Murik doggedly ran on, whimpering with pain, still clutching at the oilskin package. He had by now almost reached the rising ground behind the keep, above the helicopter pad.
Bond ran hard, pausing only to sweep up the Gyrojet, and check that there was a rocket in place. Grunting with pain and anguish, Anton Murik was gasping his way up the bank as Bond shouted to him for the second time. 'Stop. Stop, Anton. I don't want to kill you; but I'll fire if you don't stop now.'
Murik continued, as though he could hear nothing, and, as he reached the top of the mound, Bond and Tanner heard the noise of the helicopter engine rise as lift power was applied. The target was outlined against the now red morning sky: Murik teetering on top of the mound, ready to make a last dash down the other side to the Bell Ranger lying just out of sight.
Bond shouted 'Stop' once more. But for Murik there was no turning back. Carefully Bond levelled the Gyrojet pistol and squeezed the trigger. There was a crack from the primer, then he felt the b.u.t.t push back into his hand as the rocket left the barrel, gathering speed with a shower of flame - a long trace of fire getting faster and faster until it struck Murik's back, with over a thousand foot-pounds of energy behind it.
Only then did Bond know what such a projectile did to a man. It was as though someone had taken a blowlamp to the rear of a cardboard cut-out target; for the centre of Murik's back disintegrated. For a second, Bond could have sworn that he was able to see right through the gaping hole in the man, as he was lifted from his feet, rising into the air before falling forwards out of sight.
Tanner was beside Bond, his face streaked scarlet with blood, as they paced each other up the bank. Below, the helicopter pilot was revving his motor for takeoff. One glance towards Bond and the levelled Gyrojet pistol changed his mind. The pilot shut down the engine and slowly climbed from the c.o.c.kpit, placing his hands over his head.
Bond handed the weapon to Bill Tanner and descended towards the mangled remains of Anton Murik, lying just inside the pad. He hardly looked at the body. What he wanted lay a short way off - a heavy, thick oilskin package, which he picked up with care, tucking it under his arm before turning to walk slowly up the rise towards the old keep. There Bond stood for a good two minutes, taking a final long look at the castle. Warlock's Castle.
Quite a lady
James Bond stood on the station platform, looking up into Lavender Peac.o.c.k's bright eyes. It had been one of the best summers in a life which held memories of many long and eventful holiday months. Though he felt a tinge of sadness, Bond knew that all good things must end sometime. Now, the moment had come.
The oilskin packet, recovered at Murik's death, contained a whole folio of interesting items, many of which would take months to unravel. Most important of all was the irrefutable doc.u.mentation concerning Murik's real parenthood and Lavender Peac.o.c.k's claim to the estates and t.i.tle. These also proved her real name to be Lavender Murik, Peac.o.c.k being a name a.s.sumed, quite illegally, by her father before he returned to make the claim which had ended in death.
Bond had been allowed to extract these doc.u.ments, and M saw to it that they were placed in the hands of the best possible solicitors in Scotland. He was optimistic that there would be a quick ruling on the matter. In a few months Lavender would gain her inheritance.
In the meantime, Bond had been given a long leave to recuperate; though Bill Tanner had stayed on duty, his cheek decorated with sticking plaster for over a month.
A few days after his return from Murcaldy, Bond had left with Lavender, by car, for the French Riviera. To begin with, things had gone according to plan. Thinking it would be a great treat, Bond had taken the girl to the best hotels; but she was unsettled, and did not like the fuss.
On one occasion, while staying at the Negresco in Nice, Lavender wakened Bond in the night, crying out and screaming in the clutches of a nightmare. Later she told him she had dreamed of them both trapped in the Starlifter, which was on fire. James Bond gently cradled her in his arms, soothed her as one comforts a child, and held her close until the sun came up. Then they sat and breakfasted on the balcony, watching the early strollers along the Promenade des Anglais and the white triangles of yacht sails against the Mediterranean.
After a few days of this, they decided on more simple pleasures - motoring into the mountains, staying in small villages far away from the crowded resorts; or at little-known seaside places, basking in the sun, lazing, eating, talking and loving.
Bond explained the new responsibilities that would soon be thrust upon her, and Lavender slowly became more serious and withdrawn. She was still fun to be with, but, as the weeks pa.s.sed Bond noticed she was spending more time writing letters, making telephone calls, sending and receiving cables. Then one morning, out of the blue, she announced that they must return to England.
So it turned out that, a week after their return to London, Lavender visited a solicitor in Gray's Inn - acting for a firm in Edinburgh - to be told that the Scottish courts had upheld her claim to the Murik estates and t.i.tle. There was even an imposing doc.u.ment from the Lord Lyon King of Arms, stating that she had inherited the t.i.tle Lady Murik of Murcaldy.
Two days later, Lavender visited Bond with the news that she had managed to obtain a place at one of the major agricultural colleges, where she was going to study estate management. In fact, she would be leaving on the sleeper that night, to tie up matters in Edinburgh.
'I want to get the place running properly again,' she told him. 'It needs a new broom and a blast of cold air blowing through it. I think that's what my father would have wanted - for me to give the estate, and the t.i.tle, its good name again.'
Bond, due back from leave the following day, would not have tried to stop her. She was right, and he felt proud of having had some part in what looked like a glowing future. He took her out to dinner, then drove to collect her things and get her to the station.
'You'll come and stay, James, won't you? When I've got it all going again, I mean.' She leaned down out of the train window, the last-minute bustle going on around them.
'You try and stop me,' he said with a smile. 'Just try. But you might have to hold my hand at night - to lay the ghosts.'
'The ghosts? Really? It'll be a pleasure, James.' Lady Murik leaned forward and kissed him hard on the mouth, just as the whistle blew and the train started to move. 'Goodbye, James. See you again soon. Goodbye, my dear James.'
'Yes, Dilly, you'll see me again soon.' He stepped back, raising a hand. Quite a Lady, thought James Bond, as the train snaked from the platform. Quite a Lady.