A Friendly Calling Card

Live and Let Die Chapter 3

It is now 10 days later, and Bond awakens in his hotel room in New York. He reflects on his briefings with M, Dexter and Leiter, and thinks about the man who will be his opposition in this case. Buonaparte Ignace Gallia, or Mr BIG. Long before the Notorious B.I.G. or the “Mr Big” of the HBO series Sex and the City, there was the original BIG, Ian Fleming’s gangster. Mr Big has an interesting background, having been initiated into Voodoo as a child, starting his life of crime with a string of call-girls in Harlem, but then serving with the Office of Strategic Services, who game him special training during WWII. While on assignment in Marseilles, he came into contact with a Soviet spy, who apparently recruited him to Moscow. When he returned to America, his crime empire grew, and he attained great power among the “lower strata of the negro world” by his reputation as Baron Semedi himself….Prince of Darkness. The connection between Mr BIG and SMERSH appears to be very clear. Bond also reflects at the genius behind his operation.

And what a brilliant set-up for dealing with the smaller fry of the negro underworld and for keeping a colored information network well up to the mark! — the fear of Voodoo and the supernatural, still deeply, primevally ingrained in the negro subconscious! And what genius to have, as a beginning, the whole transport system of America under surveillance, the trains, the porters, the truck-drivers, the stevedores!

Bond fears and admires the “cold, brilliant efficiency of the Soviet Machine.” He also is eager for a chance to strike back at them, and leaps out of bed, ready to strike a blow. First though, he needs breakfast. “Half a pint of orange juice, three eggs, lightly scrambled, with bacon, a double portion of café Espresso with cream. Toast. Marmalade.” While he waits for his food, he reflects on the changes that the Americans made to his appearance in order to allow him to blend in more while in the country. He is fitting for two single breasted suits, “chilly white nylon shirts with long points to the collars” as well as a number of “unusually patterned foulard ties, dark socks with fancy clocks” and other essentials. They give him a Grey Fedora with a black ribbon, a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, and give him a military haircut. I hadn’t known what the word “Foulard” meant before, a quick search tells me that is signifies “A lightweight twill or plain-woven fabric of silk or silk and cotton, usually having a small printed design” I have a hard time picturing James Bond with a buzz cut and horn-rimmed glasses… He is also given a lesson in American speech patterns.

He was reminded to ask for the ‘check’ rather than the ‘bill’, to say ‘cab’ instead of ‘taxi’ and (this from Leiter) to avoid words of more than two syllables. (’You can get through any American conversation,’ advised Leiter, ‘with “Yeah”. “Nope” and “Sure”.’) The English word to be avoided at all costs, added Leiter, was ‘Ectually’. Bond had said that this word was not part of his vocabulary.

Hmmm. I have a feeling this is more Fleming taking shots at the stupid slug-like Americans, who are not capable of real conversations. Bond showers, and then walks naked into the lobby…I’m assuming the lobby of his hotel suite…to retrieve some packages.

He then spends some time reading The Travellers Tree by Patrick Leigh Fermor. There is an extensive passage quoted in Live and Let Die from the book, dealing with Haiti and Voodoo practices and terrible rites involved as well as Baron Samedi. The book was recommended to him by M. Interestingly as of this writing, Patrick Leigh Fermor is still alive, and even had written a book as recently as 2003. The book The Travellers Tree can still be found at certain resellers as well. I just think that’s pretty neat…a guy referenced in a Fleming book, whose book is being read by Bond, is still around.

Breakfast comes, and Bond is interrupted from his reading. Another package has come along with the breakfast and Bond doesn’t pay much attention to it until he hears a tiny ‘tick-tock…tick-tock…tick-tock.’ He dives behind a table, wondering if the book has put his nerves on edge. It keeps ticking…and then the alarm goes off. Since nothing happens with the package when the alarm starts, Bond relaxes. He knows that bombs with clocks are triggered when the alarm goes off. It rings for 30 seconds or so, slows down, and suddenly there is small explosion. Bond is unhurt, though some glasses are broken in the room. He calls Dexter, who calls in Trippe, from the sabotage unit. They go through the debris, and see that the bomb had an acid trigger which was activated by the alarm, but takes 30 seconds to shoot a blank 4-bore elephant gun cartridge. They also find a message in a cylinder in the rubble.


Bond is concerned because there has obviously been a leak somewhere. He dismisses Dexter by referring to the bomb as a calling card, which he must return.

Mr Big – A Great Negro Criminal

So after being wined and dined by the Americans, Bond reflects back to the events that sent him to New York. We have another mention of Bond’s 1933 4 1/2-litre Grey Bentley convertible with the Amherst-Villiers supercharger as Bond drives to work, having been called at midnight the previous night by the Chief of Staff informing him that M wanted to see him at 9:00 the next morning. The only clues he receives about what is in store is that it involves the American and Caribbean stations.

It’s been about 5 or 6 months since the events of Casino Royale. You’ll recall that the Bond’s recovery from his beating at the hands of Le Chiffre took place in July, and it is now January. He’s had surgery to repair the back of his hand, which had been “branded” by the SMERSH assassin. Apparently since those events there has been a change of power in the KGB as Bond reflects on who might control SMERSH since “Beria was gone”. It’s a reference to Lavrentii Beria. It’s an interesting story. According the an article on the webpage for the PBS television network:

After Stalin died in March 1953, a power struggle broke out in Moscow. Several Soviet leaders were worried that Beria was hoping to become as powerful as Stalin had been. And so in July of that year, Nikita Khrushchev arranged to have him arrested, denouncing him as an agent of international imperialism. Beria was tried in secret and found guilty. A Soviet general executed him in his underground cell, and according to a witness Beria crawled on his knees begging for mercy.

Beria was the head of the Soviet secret police. He was executed on December 23rd, 1953, just weeks or even days before Bond is summoned to M’s office. When Bond enters the office, M wants to take a look at his hand, to see how it has healed up.

After satisfying himself with Bond’s hand, M goes into the reason for Bond’s visit. Gold coins dated from 1510 to 1644 are appearing on the American market. They’re rumored to have been part of Bloody Morgan’s treasure. While they’re discussing this, we see an interesting peek at the M/Bond relationship.

M paused to fill his pipe and light it. He didn't invite Bond to smoke and Bond would not have thought of doing so uninvited.

We know enjoys his cigarettes, but his respect for M is that he’s not going to take the liberty of smoking in front of M without being invited to do so. In any event, these coins are flooding the American market and showing up everywhere, but usually in the hands of “negroes –porters, sleeping-car attendants, truck-drivers — and getting the money well spread over the States.” The story behind the money is that it is part of Blackbeard’s treasure. Supposedly found in North Carolina in 1928. M, however has intelligence indicating that this money is originating from Jamaica, and is in fact part of the Bloody Morgan treasure. They’ve been watching a yacht that has been making trips from Jamaica to the Florida Keys onto St Petersburg. The yacht belongs to Mr Big. A negro gangster. More interestingly, one of Mr Big’s lieutenants used a twenty dollar bill that had been traced back to a Communist double agent. The belief is that the treasure is being used to finance the American operations of the Soviet espionage system.

They talk a little bit about Mr Big, his background, noting that he is a known member of SMERSH. Bond remarks that he’s surprised that he has reached this level.

'I don't think I've ever heard of a great negro criminal before,' said Bond, 'Chinamen, of course, the men behind the opium trade. There've been some big-time Japs, mostly in pearls and drugs. Plenty of negroes mixed up in diamonds and gold in Africa, but always in a small way. They don't seem to take to big business. Pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought, except when they've drunk too much.'

More cringe-inducing comments there. Very dated, but again, it’s the 1950’s. M adds to this by noting that the negroes are putting out great scientists, doctors and writers, they’re due for a great criminal. In Casino Royale, we had the comments about women, in Live and Let Die, it’s about the African-Americans. There will be plenty more borderline racist comments in this book, and the lingo used by Fleming is painful at times. In any event, once Bond learns that Mr Big is a member of SMERSH, he is immediately interested and wants to destroy him and his organization because of what they did to him and how they turned Vesper just 5 or 6 months previous.

Live and Let Die

There are moments of great luxury in the life of a secret agent. There are assignments on which he is required to act the part of a very rich man; occasions when he takes refuge in good living to efface the memory of danger and the shadow of death; and times when, as was now the case, he is a guest in the territory of an allied Secret Service.
From the moment the BOAC Stratocruiser taxied up to the International Air Terminal at Idlewild, James Bond was treated like royalty.

And so the second James Bond adventure by Ian Fleming begins.

Bond flies to New York via the famed BOAC Stratocruiser – when flying was about comfort and luxury, as opposed to the SouthWest Airlines and independence Air flights that operate and flourish today on the principle that cheap and fast is always better. I saw one of the few remaining Stratocrusiers last summer when it was on a publicity tour around the country. Quite an impressive plane.

Bond gets the red carpet in that he is escorted directly through to the curb without having to stand in line for Customs screening. A man named Halloran escorts Bond through all the red tape, and they hop into a car to go to Bond’s hotel. After receiving $1000 spending money taken from a busted communist operation, Bond sits back and observes the American landscape. Was it so different 50 years ago?

It was no waste of time to pick up the American idiom again: the advertisements, the new car models and the prices of secondhand ones in the used-car lots; the exotic pungency of the road signs: SOFT SHOULDERS — SHARP CURVES — SQUEEZE AHEAD — SLIPPER WHEN WET; the standard of driving; the number of women at the wheel, the menfolk dociley beside them; the men’s clothes; the way the women were doing their hair; the Civil Defense warnings: IN CASE OF ENEMY ATTACK — KEEP MOVING — GET OFF BRIDGE; the thick rash of television aerials and the impact of TV on hoardings and shop windows; the occasional helicopter; the public appeals for cancer and polio funds: THE MARCH OF DIMES — all the small fleeting impressions that were as important to his trade as are broken bark and bent twigs to a trapper in the jungle.

This book was published in 1954, likely written in 1953. Most things sound very much as you would see today. The comment about women drivers is a little amusing, but the rest of the descriptions would fit today as well.

Bond gets to the hotel – the St Regis and is greeted by Captain Dexter, as Bond is introduced a traffic incident catches his eye…a smart, decisive bit of driving by a black sedan pulling in front of a cab. Bond is startled that a “negress” was at the wheel serving as chauffeur. The passenger also catches Bond’s eye “a huge grey-black face which had turned slowly towards him and looked directly at him.” Bond knows who the car belongs to…Fleming doesn’t tell us how…yet…but he wonders if the person in the back was “Mr Big”. Bond is taken up to his room where Captain Dexter has a surprise for him…Felix Leiter is waiting in his room for him.

Apparently Bond and Leiter are to team up once again in this operation on American soil. Captain Dexter also informs Bond that “Mr Hoover instructs me to say that he’s very pleased to have you along. As our guest.”, a reference to legendary FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. They then get some food brought into the room.

‘Soft-shell crabs with tartare sauce, flat beef Hamburgers, medium-rare, from the charcoal grill, french-fried potatoes, broccoli, mixed salad with thousand-island dressing, ice-cream with melted butterscotch and as good a Liebfraumilch as you can get in America.’

They sit down and eat this “delicious course of American cooking at its rare best” as described by Fleming. That’s the best they could get? Or was it Fleming taking a little shot at American cuisine? After eating, they settle in to talk about the case that has brought them together. Bond reflects back to the bitter January day when he was called into M’s office.

The End

We will wrap up the novel Casino Royale in this post.

Bond and Vesper are still on their recuperation vacation following the operation in Royale. There is still some disturbing behavior going on from Vesper, but in chapter 24, she seems to get herself together for a little bit. Bond returns to his room to find his things laid out nicely and a bath drawn for him by Vesper. He tells her he wants her, and she wants lobster and tells him to get ready. They go to dinner, an elaborate one probably lasting a couple hours. During the meal they exchange excited looks and touches of their hands and feet. Vesper says that she doesn’t deserve such treatment and Bond thinks she’s going into a vin triste. (alcohol induced melancholy.) They make some jokes about people being islands, and their islands feeling close, and Bond proposes they make a peninsula.

They have their dessert and coffee and Vesper goes to her room. Bond waits a while, smoking and waiting for her light to go out. He finally goes up.

The moonlight shone through the half-closed shutters and lapped at the secret shadows in the snow of her body on the broad bed.

That’s all we get. No detailed description on the night of passion. In fact, Bond awakens in his own room. He again goes down to the beach to reflect and think. He actually sits at the bottom of the ocean for a full minute and then pops up to the surface, hoping Vesper is walking towards the beach so he can startle her. She’s not there. He then lays on the beach as he did the night before. He thinks.

After a while he rose and walked back slowly along the beach to his pyjama-coat.
That day he would ask Vesper to marry him. He was quite certain. It was only a question of choosing the right moment.

Surprised? Fleming decides to play this card and see where it goes. Bond is heading back to the room when he sees Vesper coming from a phone booth. She is startled to see him, and acts suspiciously, giving a flimsy excuse for her needing to make a secretive phone call. Bond presses the issues a little, trying to get her to tell him the truth, but she keeps trying to patch her deceit.

That was the end of the integrity of their love. The succeeding days were a shambles of falseness and hyprocrisy, mingled with her tears and moments of animal passion to which she abandoned herself with a greed made indecent by the hollowness of their days.

Each day it just gets worse. One day during lunch, a man appears, also eating lunch there, and Vesper again acts terrified. She insists it is the same man she thought was following them when they traveled out to the Inn. The man has a black patch over one eye…not taped but screwed in, like a monocle. Vesper cannot stand to be there any longer, despite Bond\’s assurances. She leaves the table under the excuse of a headache. Bond remains, hoping to observe the man and get to the bottom of the situation. He doesn’t really learn much, but gets the number plate and talks to the patron about the man. He appears to be a Swiss banker.

The next couple days are much the same. Vesper actually takes a cab into Royale under the pretense of getting some medicine. When she returns, there’s more drama.

That night she made a special effort to be gay. She drank a lot of and when they went upstairs, she led him into her bedroom and made passionate love to him. Bond’s body responded, but afterwards she cried bitterly into her pillow and Bond went to his room in grim despair.

Bond cannot sleep and hears her again going down to the phone booth. He continues to wonder what is going on. The man with the patch returns on Sunday. Bond has had him checked out by Mathis, and there is nothing really suspicious there. This is not comforting to Vesper, and Bond tells her that she need to either tell him what is going on, or that they need to leave. Bond tells her that he had planned to ask her to marry him. She is moved, and asks for some time alone. She says she’s trying to do what’s best for both of them. That evening, they have dinner and she again tries to be happy. She drinks a lot again and tells Bond to come quickly to her room as she wants him badly tonight. He goes and Bond feels all could be well again, “The barriers of self-consciousness and mistrust seemed to have vanished.” They lay in bed for a while, and then she tells Bond he must leave. Before he goes, she turns to light on because she wants to look at him. Her eyes are full of tears, and she kisses him and turns out the light.

Bond is awakened the next morning by the patron, who has a letter for Bond and tells him there has been a terrible accident. Vesper is dead. She has taken a bottle of sleeping pills. He sits down and opens the letter. After telling Bond she loves him with all her heart, she reveals that she is a double agent, working for the Russians. She was basically forced into it after her lover in the Royal Air Force was captured by them. She explains a lot such as how his arrival at Royale was known ahead of time, how the microphones got into his room, how Le Chiffre’s gunman was able to get so close to him at the casino and how she staged the kidnapping. She explains the phone calls she’s had to keep making this week. She tries to give some helpful information about her contacts and handlers. She ends again telling Bond she loves him.

Bond’s eyes get wet, but only momentarily. He goes to the telephone booth. It’s now behind him. He’s a professional, now only thinking of the mess this has made for his service, all the damage that has been done by her…this spy. He makes up his mind that he is going to hunt down and destroy SMERSH. Before that, he needs to inform headquarters. His exchange his short and these are the last lines of the book. Memorable lines, indeed.

‘This is 007 speaking. This is an open line. It’s an emergency. Can you hear me? Pass this on at once. 3030 was a double, working for Redland.
‘Yes, dammit, I said “was”. The bitch is dead now.’

I remember finding a whole set of Bond books in my great-grandfather’s garage almost 20 years ago. I found Casino Royale, as I knew it was the first book in the James Bond series. I opened the book to the last page and read those lines. I was hooked. What led to this point? I had to read the whole book. Which I did. As well as all the others I could get my hands on. Now I’m doing it again. The next book to be recapped here will be Live and Let Die. I hope you’ll join me in this adventure as well.