The Quickness Of The Hand

Moonraker Chapter Seven

I don’t know the first thing about playing Bridge, yet this chapter by Ian Fleming detailing how James Bond sets up and knocks out Sir Hugo Drax at the bridge table at Blades is absolutely riveting.

You’ll recall that we ended the last chapter with Bond appearing to be very drunk and enticing Drax to play at the highest stakes ever seen at Blades. we open chapter seven with Drax’s partner, Meyer expressing his nervousness about being involved in such a high stakes game. However Drax harshly orders him to play his game, and the match is on. We see a marked change in Bond at that moment.

Bond lit a cigarette with hands that had suddenly become quite steady. His mind was clear. He knew exactly what he had to do, and when, and he was glad that the moment of decision had come.

He feels good karma in the crowd around him, he reflects on all the card battles that have gone on in this room for over a hundred years, and then the game gets off to a good start, with Bond getting a strong hand.

Bond allows himself to appear emboldened by the hand, causing Drax to raise the stakes even higher. Then the signal appears.

Across the table, M saw a white handkerchief materialize in Bond’s right hand. M’s eyes narrowed. Bond seemed to wipe his face with it. M saw him glance sharply at Drax and Meyer, then the handkerchief was back in his pocket.

It is Bond’s deal now, and he hands out the cards. Drax can hardly believe the hand before him. Bond has set the trap and enjoys watching his prey come to the bait. He then goes back into his “drunk” act, causing Drax to raise the stakes on the game one final time. In addition to the 15 & 15, there is also a side bet of 400 pounds per trick. Bond knows what is in Drax’s hand.

Bond had dealt them to him – in the Secretary’s room before dinner.

Basildon has come back to observe the game, and is startled at the stakes and also by the hands that he sees. This is what he observes as he walks around the table:

Diamonds – Queen, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
Clubs – Ace, queen, 10, 8, 4

Spades – Ace, king, queen, knave
Hearts – Ace, king, queen, knave
Diamonds – Ace, king
Clubs – King, knave, 9

Spades – 10, 9, 8, 7
Hearts – 6, 5, 4, 3
Clubs – 7, 6, 5, 3, 2

Spades – 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
Hearts – 10, 9, 8, 7, 2
Diamonds – Knave, 10, 9

Basildon sees that Bond has arranged a lay down Grand Slam against any defense. His thought:

It was sheer murder.

Drax still has no clue and impatiently orders Meyer to put something down and get started. Basildon reflects that in 10 minutes Drax will wish that Meyer had died in his chair before he could put anything down. Piece by piece the game goes down just as Bond had planned out. Then a great section of the book follows.

Morphy, the great chess player, had a terrible habit. He would never raise his eyes from the game until he knew his opponent could not escape defeat. Then he would slowly lift his great head and gaze curiously at the man across the board. His opponent would feel the gaze and would slowly, humbly raise his eyes to meet Morphy’s. At that moment he would know it was no good continuing the game. The eyes of Morphy said so. There was nothing left but surrender.

Now, like Morphy, Bond lifted his head and looked straight into Drax’s eyes. Then he slowly drew out the queen of diamonds and placed it on the table. Without waiting for Meyer to play he followed it, deliberately, with the 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 and the two winning clubs.

Then he spoke. ‘That’s all, Drax,’ he said quietly, and sat back slowly in his chair.

The rage wells up in Drax, as he starts to accuse Bond of cheating. Basildon stops him and orders him to settle up. He owes Bond over 15,000 pounds. Bond notes a look of “contemptuous triumph” in Drax’s good eye, which he finds curiously disturbing.

Before Drax departs, he advises Bond to spend the money quickly.

This is the end of Part I of Moonraker. Just a couple side notes from the reading:

Mahomet Ali Club = The Mohammed Ali club in Cairo.

“Morphy, the great chess player” = Paul Morphy.