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A soft voice said, “Yes, sir.” Bond heard the door close. “Now then, guano.” Pleydell-Smith tilted his chair back. Bond prepared to be bored. “As you know, it's bird dung. Comes frorn the rear end of two birds, the masked booby and the guanay. So far as Crab Key is concerned, it's only the guanay, otherwise known as the green cormorant, same bird as you find in England. The guanay is a machine for converting fish into guano. They mostly eat anchovies. Just to show you how much fish they eat, they've found up to seventy anchovies inside one bird!” Pleydell-Smith took out his pipe and pointed it impressively at Bond. “The whole population of Peru eats four thousand tons of fish a year. The sea birds of the country eat five hundred thousand tons!”
Bond pursed his lips to show he was impressed. “Really.”
“Well, now,” continued the Colonial Secretary, "every day
each one of these hundreds of thousands of guanays eat a
pound or so of fish and deposit an ounce of guano on the
guanera-that's the guano island."
Bond interrupted, “Why don't they do it in the sea?”
“Don't know.” Pleydell-Smith took the question and turned it over in his mind. "Never occurred to me. Anyway they don't. They do it on the land and they've been doing it since before Genesis. That makes the hell of a lot of bird dung-millions of tons of it on the Pescadores and the other guanera. Then, around 1850 someone discovered it was the greatest natural fertilizer in the world-stuffed with nitrates and phosphates and what have you. And the ships and the men came to the guaneras and simply ravaged them for twenty years or more.
It's a time known as the 'Saturnalia' in Peru. It was like the Klondyke. People fought over the muck, hi-jacked each other's ships, shot the workers, sold phoney maps of secret guano islands-anything you like. And people made fortunes out of the stuff."
“Where does Crab Key come in?” Bond wanted to get down to cases.
“That was the only worthwhile guanera so far north. It was worked too, God knows who by. But the stuff had a low nitrate content. Water's not as rich round here as it is down along the Humboldt Current. So the fish aren't so rich in chemicals. So the guano isn't so rich either. Crab Key got worked on and off when the price was high enough, but the whole industry went bust, with Crab Key and the other poor-quality deposits in the van, when the Germans invented artificial chemical manure. By this time Peru had realized that she had squandered a fantastic capital asset and she set about organizing the remains of the industry and protecting the guanera. She nationalized the industry and protected the birds, and slowly, very slowly, the supplies built up again. Then people found that there were snags about the German stuff, it impoverishes the soil, which guano doesn't do, and gradually the price of guano improved and the industry staggered back to its feet. Now it's going fine, except that Peru keeps most of the guano to herself, for her own agriculture. And that was where Crab Key came in again.”
“Yes,” said Pleydell-Smith, patting his pockets for the matches, finding them on the desk, shaking them against his ear, and starting his pipe-filling routine, “at the beginning of the war, this Chinaman, who must be a wily devil, by the way, got the idea that he could make a good thing out of the old guanera on Crab Key. The price was about fifty dollars a ton on this side of the Atlantic and he bought the island from us, for about ten thousand pounds as I recall it, brought in labour and got to work. Been working it ever since. Must have made a fortune. He ships direct to Europe, to Antwerp. They send him a ship once a month. He's installed the latest crushers and separators. Sweats his labour, I daresay. To make a decent profit, he'd have to. Particularly now. Last year I heard he was only getting about thirty-eight to forty dollars a ton c.i.f. Antwerp. God knows what he must pay his labour to make a profit at that price. I've never been able to find out. He runs that place like a fortress-sort of forced labour camp. No one ever gets off it. I've heard some funny rumours, but no one's ever complained. It's his island, of course, and he can do what he likes on it.”
Bond hunted for clues. “Would it really be so valuable to him, this place? What do you suppose it's worth?”
'Pleydell-Smith said, “The guanay is the most valuable bird in the world. Each pair produces about two dollars' worth of guano in a year without any expense to the owner. Each female lays an-average of three eggs and raises two young. Two broods a year. Say they're worth fifteen dollars a pair, and say there are one hundred thousand birds on Crab Key, which is a reasonable guess on the old figures we have. That makes his birds worth a million and a half dollars. Pretty valuable property. Add the value of the installations, say another million, and you've got a small fortune on that hideous little place. Which reminds me,” Pleydell-Smith pressed the bell, “what the hell has happened to those files? You'll find all the dope you want in them.”
The door opened behind Bond.
Pleydell-Smith said irritably, “Really, Miss Taro. What about those files?”
“Very sorry, sir,” said the soft voice. “But we can't find them anywhere.”
“What do you mean 'can't find them'? Who had them last?”
“Commander Strangways, sir.”
“Well, I remember distinctly him bringing them back to this room. What happened to them then?”
“Can't say, sir,” the voice was unemotional. “The covers are there but there's nothing inside them.”
Bond turned in his chair. He glanced at the girl and turned back. He smiled grimly to himself. He knew where the files had gone. He also knew why the old file on himself had been out on the Secretary's desk. He also guessed how the particular significance of 'James Bond, Import and Export Merchant' seemed to have leaked out of King's House, the only place where the significance was known.
Like Doctor No, like Miss Annabel Chung, the demure, efficient-looking little secretary in the horn-rimmed glasses was a Chinese.
THE FINGER ON THE TRIGGER
The Colonial Secretary gave Bond lunch at Queen's Club, They sat in a corner of the elegant mahogany-panelled dining-room with its four big ceiling fans and gossiped about Jamaica. By the time coffee came, Pleydell-Smith was delving well below the surface of the prosperous, peaceful island the world knows.
“It's like this.” He began his antics with the pipe. “The Jamaican is a kindly lazy man with the virtues and vices of a child. He lives on a very rich island but he doesn't get rich from it. He doesn't know how to and he's too lazy. The British come and go and take the easy pickings, but for about two hundred years no Englishman has made a fortune out here. He doesn't stay long enough. He takes a fat cut and leaves. It's the Portuguese Jews who make the most. They came here with the British and they've stayed. But they're snobs and they spend too much of their fortunes on building fine houses and giving dances. They're the names that fill the social column in the Gleaner when the tourists have gone. They're in rum and tobacco and they represent the big British firms over here-motor cars, insurance and so forth. Then come the Syrians, very rich too, but not such good businessmen. They have most of the stores and some of the best hotels. They're not a very good risk. Get overstocked and have to have an occasional fire to get liquid again. Then there are the Indians with their usual flashy trade in soft goods and the like. They're not much of a lot. Finally there are the Chinese, solid, compact, discreet-the most powerful clique in Jamaica. They've got the bakeries and the laundries and the best food stores. They keep to themselves and keep their strain pure.” Pleydell-Smith laughed. “Not that they don't take the black girls when they want them. You can see the result all over Kingston-Chigroes-Chinese Negroes and Negresses. The Chigroes are a tough, forgotten race. They look down on the Negroes and the Chinese look down on them. One day they may become a nuisance. They've got some of the intelligence of the Chinese and most of the vices of the black man. The police have a lot of trouble with them.”
Bond said, “That secretary of yours. Would she be one of them?”
“That's right. Bright girl and very efficient. Had her for about six months. She was far the best of the ones that answered our advertisement.”
“She looks bright,” said Bond non-committally. “Are they organized, these people? Is there some head of the Chinese Negro community?”
“Not yet. But someone'll get hold of them one of these days. They'd be a useful little pressure group.” Pleydell-Smith glanced at his watch. “That reminds me. Must be getting along. Got to go and read the riot act about those files. Can't think what happened to them. I distinctly remember...” He broke off. “However, main point is that I haven't been able to give you much dope about Crab Key and this doctor fellow. But I can tell you there wasn't much you'd have found out from the files. He seems to have been a pleasant spoken chap. Very businesslike. Then there was that argument with the Audubon Society. I gather you know all about that. As for the place itself, there was nothing on the files but one or two pre-war reports and a copy of the last ordnance survey. Godforsaken bloody place it sounds. Nothing but miles of mangrove swamps and a huge mountain of bird dung at one end. But you said you were going down to the Institute. Why don't I take you there and introduce you to the fellow who runs the map section?”
An hour later Bond was ensconced in a corner of a sombre room with the ordnance survey map of Crab Key, dated 1910, spread out on a table in front of him. He had a sheet of the Institute's writing-paper and had made a rough sketch-map and was jotting down the salient points.
The overall area of the island was about fifty square miles. Three-quarters of this, to the east, was swamp and shallow lake. From the lake a flat river meandered down to the sea and came out halfway along the south coast into a small sandy bay. Bond guessed that somewhere at the headwaters of the river would be a likely spot for the Audubon wardens to have chosen for their camp. To the west, the island rose steeply to a hill stated to be five hundred feet high and ended abruptly with what appeared to be a sheer drop to the sea. A dotted line led from this hill to a box in the corner of the map which contained the words Guano deposits. Last workings 1880.
There was no sign of a road, or even of a track oh the island, and no sign of a house. The relief map showed that the island looked rather like a swimming water rat-a flat spine rising sharply to the head-heading west. It appeared to be about thirty miles due north of Galina Point on the north shore of Jamaica and about sixty miles south of Cuba.
Little else could be gleaned from the map. Crab Key was surrounded by shoal water except below the western cliff where the nearest marking was five hundred fathoms. After that came the plunge into the Cuba Deep. Bond folded the map and handed it in to the librarian.
Suddenly he felt exhausted. It was only four o'clock, but it was roasting in Kingston and his shirt was sticking to him. Bond walked out of the Institute and found a taxi and went back up into the cool hills to his hotel. He was well satisfied with his day, but nothing .else could be done on this side of the island. He would spend a quiet evening at his hotel and be ready to get up early next morning and be away.