AS HE BEGAN his contact schedule at the Tower of London, Robert Helm just knew that the job would turn him into an outlaw but that was just too bad. His instructions were to spend exactly four minutes at each tower, following the tour route in the guide book and ignoring the soreness around the stitches in his side, until someone approached him. He felt sure that he looked to everyone else like a furtive, untried jewel-thief. He hoped to hell that he wouldn't attract the attention of the Tower's security staff.
He started his circuit at the Bell Tower at eleven o'clock on an overcast Wednesday morning in the middle of August. He was surrounded by tourists on an distinctly unsummery day. The man who had replied to his newspaper advertisement by telephone hadn't asked for much detail in the description department.
The client was looking out for a man in his early thirties, who was wearing a blue anorak in case of rain and jeans, who was about six feet tall and of average build, and who had a pale complexion. Helm had been willing to carry on describing himself down to the scars on his right forearm and his left knee, and to wear a green carnation and hold a copy of The Times in an artificially conspicuous manner. The man on the phone had ended their conversation abruptly, however, as if someone had walked in on him.
A young blonde in a leather jacket and skin-tight jeans had been looking him over but it was a middle-aged man who made contact with Helm at the White Tower. The client was half a head shorter than Helm, well tanned and solidly built. A dark green cloth cap drooped over his eyes. The deep collar of his black raincoat was turned up to protect his ears from the chilly wind. He carried a black cigarillo cupped in his left hand for the same reason. Something about him that made Helm wonder if MI-5 recruited expendable agents from newspaper adverts.
"You Box Three-Fifteen?" The man quoted the reference number from one of the newspaper advertisements in what sounded like a natural London accent.
"That's right." Helm tried to project confidence.
"You're all right to travel? After going to hospital yesterday?" The client turned to the stairs leading up to the execution block and the parade ground.
"I guess so," Helm said too casually. "My fees start at twenty-five thousand pounds sterling, in advance, plus expenses. Just so we know where we are."
"I must say, you're not looking too hot." The client looked Helm over with a sceptical gaze. "You weren't exaggerating in your advert, were you?"
Helm shrugged. "Depends what you want me to do. Obviously, anything strenuous like delivering boxes of Milk Tray is right out."
"The job is to photograph someone. Make a video of him, in fact. The only problem is, he's a very private man. He has people around to make sure no one points a camera at him. And he has a lot of pull with the local police. If his bodyguards hit someone a bit too hard, it can be covered up. You don't look like you can take much punishment."
"You pay, I'll take the risks." Helm began to feel glad that he had set his price at 'outrageous'. "What do I call you?"
"Bateman." No first name was offered. "The job's in Greece. Got a passport you can use?"
"I've got a full British passport I can use."
"It had better be Irish. We can see about that."
"How long will the job take? How long can it take?"
"No more than a week. You going to be alive for that long?"
"I'll give it my best shot. The guy I have to video. Does he ever go out in public? I mean, he's not another Howard Hughes?"
"He does go out," nodded Bateman. "But he's protected when he does."
"I'll think of something." Helm forced himself into a positive mental attitude. He was prepared to exert himself for ú25,000.
"This job works like a marine salvage contract. No cure, no pay. No video and we'll want the twenty-five grand back and you'll pay your own expenses. And find your own way home."
"That goes without saying."
"Good. I'll meet you at W.H. Smith's at Victoria Station at two o'clock to finalize the arrangements."
Bateman stopped walking to study the map in his guidebook. Helm read the inscription at the side of the execution block then he headed for the armouries. He left the Tower at noon and headed up-river. If Bateman was serious, he want a man in a terminal condition to travel to Greece on a false Irish passport. Bateman was willing to pay a hell of a lot of cold cash for his video-recording of a private man, whose bodyguards might kill the cameraman.
Helm felt an impulse, which he resisted firmly, to dash back to his car and break all records to his home near Maidstone. At the same time, he had a sensation of walking about six inches above the pavement. He could do a lot of high-speed jet-setting with ú25,000.
Helm fortified himself with a pub lunch of sausage sandwiches and a pint of bitter. In his present condition, one pint was his limit. He found Bateman inspecting a rack of paperbacks when he reached Victoria station. Helm decided that the older man looked like either a gangster or a retired copper.
Without looking directly at Helm, Bateman set off on a walkabout. Helm had his first twinges of real doubt when they stopped at a photo-booth. Bateman had clearly reached a destination.
"This passport, it's a good one?" Helm remarked when they were waiting for the machine to deliver his prints.
"From a bent Irish consular official," said Bateman. "It's the real thing, and it'll go on the books as officially issued. Your driving licence. Clean, is it?"
Helm took out his wallet. Bateman scanned the licence, then handed it back. The strip of photographs dropped into the collection slot. Bateman took charge of it. Helm followed him to a bench. Bateman handed him an A5-size, stiff-backed notebook from a side pocket of his black raincoat. He looked cold and he would have looked pale if not for his tan. Bateman was clearly used to much warmer weather. Inside the notebook was part of a passport application form. Helm dug out a ballpoint. Bateman took out a smaller, police-style notebook from an inside pocket and flicked through the pages.
"This one's close enough," he decided. "Profession - engineer," he added at dictation speed. "Date of birth July twelfth. Age thirty-one. Country of residence England. Use your own height and so on."
"Six-one, blue eyes, black hair, no special peculiarities," muttered Helm. "What about the signature?"
"John A Scott. A for Albert. Try it out in the notebook first."
Helm filled two columns on a blank page. He settled on a flowing signature in which the 'J' was a single, downward stroke and hook without a crossbar. Bateman tore the page out of the notebook and gave it to him.
"Practise that at home. And remember, your birthday's now July the twelfth and your star sign's Cancer not Leo. Maybe we should have picked another one. But it's too late now."
Helm's sick smile cheered up when Bateman took a long manilla envelope from his other raincoat pocket.
"I'll give you the completed passport at the buffet bar at Euston station at half-six. Be ready to go tomorrow." Bateman looked at his gold wristwatch. "You've got plenty of time to do some shopping. Take all new stuff to Greece, okay? And remember your name's Scott now. You'll have a contact over there called Lane. It'll always be Mr. Scott calling Mr. Lane when you phone him. But if you're in trouble, or you think someone's listening in, you'll say John Scott calling Mr. Lane as a warning. Got it?"
"Mister if it's safe, John if it isn't. Okay. See you at six-thirty," Helm said cheerfully.
"And I'll see you, Mr. Helm," Bateman returned with a smile that seemed sinister in retrospect.
As he left the station, Helm realized that Bateman had gleaned a lot of useful information from his driving licence name, address, date of birth. If Helm tried a double-cross, Bateman would be able to check round in a few computers and apply pressure either directly to Helm himself or indirectly on his family. A man who handed out envelopes of cash had to have that sort of access to electronic libraries of personal information.
Continuing with his plan, Helm deposited ú24,500 in his building society account. He had stuffed his passbook into his inside pocket on the way out of the house as a gesture of confidence that he would not be wasting a day. He made a remark about what a wonderful institution the bookmaker is as a clerk with a glazed expression counted 490 ú50 notes.
Bateman had told him to get a haircut so that he would not look exactly like his passport photograph. Shorn, shopping over, Helm spend the rest of the afternoon in a cinema watching a blood-and-thunder epic featuring CIA and KGB agents working separately to create a joint Allah's Thunder.
At their next meeting, Bateman gave him a UK driving licence to match his Irish Republic passport. The envelope also contained a book of dollar traveller's cheques and a one-way air ticket to Athens. Helm worked out an emergency plan during his journey home. If he got into real trouble, he would ditch his false identity, present himself at the nearest British embassy and say that his passport had been stolen. He could even quote the number to speed up checks. Bad guys looking for an Irishman called Scott would not be interested in an Englishman called Helm. He hoped.
The next morning, he remembered to ring his local health centre. He told the receptionist that he had to go abroad on business and he would ring about his test results when he got back. It was a quick, impersonal conversation, apparently about an entirely routine matter. The receptionist was unaware that the life and death of Robert Helm could hang on an examination of the waxy blob snatched by a surgeon from his left lung.
As far as Helm was concerned, he could go out with a bang, if necessary, now that he had added ú24,000 to his savings. The test results were no longer important.
He wondered whether to attempt an Irish accent as he travelled by Tube out to Heathrow. He decided instead to say as little as possible and try to mimic his consultant's upper-class accent. He had seen titled Scotsmen on TV programmes and they all seemed to have an English public-school accent. It was reasonable to suppose that moneyed families in the Irish Republic would give their children the same educational advantage.
Helm was travelling light. He had filled a cabin bag with new underwear and socks, a pair of jeans, sweatshirts, a light plastic anorak, a spare pair of shoes, shaving tackle, a basic medical kit and some thick paperbacks. He was wearing a good pair of trousers and a smart leather jacket. If he needed anything else, he planned to buy it on expenses to the benefit of the Greek economy.
To his surprise, the people at the airport called him 'Mr. Scott' and no hard-eyed men in dark suits, clones of 'Mr. Bateman', closed in to arrest him for travelling on a false passport. The wait for his flight was an hour and a half of agony. Helm kept telling himself that having an Irish passport didn't make him an automatic terrorist suspect. He knew that not every Irishman is a card-carrying member of the IRA, even if they behave like it when the British want to extradite a killer or an accessory to mass slaughter.
He was still struggling with his unbridgeable gap between knowing and believing when his flight was called. Sitting down on the airliner was a positive relief. Helm was sure that he has staggered along the boarding pier, twitching furiously. He hoped that the cabin staff had marked him down as a nervous flier rather than a potential hi-jacker. He felt a whole lot better after a gin and tonic, and he was able to read his book rather than staring at pages of printed words while taking nothing in.
He studied his Greek phrasebook and a pocket dictionary at intervals through the three-and-a-half-hour flight. He remained unable to understand why the word 'masturbate' had been included in the pocket dictionary in a position that made it a key word printed in bold type at the top of one of the pages.
He had examined other volumes of the series in the bookshop when he had come across that key word during a pre-purchase flick through the pages. That word had replaced 'masticate' and 'mastiff' in the French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish pocket dictionaries. He remained unsure whether the need for the word said something significant about the Greeks or the attitude toward them of whoever had compiled the dictionary.
It was not until he left the airliner at Athens airport that he asked himself what the hell he was doing. He was in a foreign country with very little command of the language and travelling on an illegally issued passport. His dodgy job was worth ú25,000 plus expenses to someone, but Robert Helm, alias John Scott, didn't have the first idea how he was going to tackle it.
According to the stamps in it, John Albert Scott's passport had been abroad eight times in the last three years. Helm was relieved to pass through customs and immigration at the same speed as other visitors from members states of the European club. He had been on holiday to France, Germany and Denmark, but he had never travelled as far as Greece before.
Athens is the open gateway to Europe for whole gangs of Arab terrorists, according to the newspapers. False passports had to be an everyday sight, Helm told himself. He gained the impression that he would have to have a machine gun slung on his shoulder before anyone stopped him.
He paid 100 drachmas to travel on the airport bus to the ferry terminal at Piraeus. He spent half an hour looking down the wrong side streets for the garage, visiting the quayside several times during his travels. He had seen fishermen on television tenderizing octopuses by beating them against a wall, Seeing it happen for real was a mildly shocking experience, which confirmed that all foreigners are a bunch of barbarians at heart.
He hoped that the recipients of the rubbery slaps were completely dead, recalling that Mediterranean fishermen kill an octopus by biting it between the eyes. He also remembered that marine biologists consider octopuses to be relatively intelligent creatures. Helm resolved, on the spot, that he would not be bullied into sampling that particular local delicacy, even if some hairy Greek pointed a gun at him.
The garage came out of hiding eventually. A sad-looking man with slicked-back hair and a mucky face wiped his hands on greasy, blue overalls, then gave Helm the keys of a battered, blue Fiat Uno and a greasy envelope, in which was a non-greasy sheet of paper with a hand-written telephone number and a typed list of address.
The mechanic recommended a flat in Valaki, which belonged to his cousin, as a good place to stay. Realizing that a back-hander was involved, Helm accepted the recommendation in return for a full tank of petrol.
The first-floor studio flat on the seaward side of the coast road had its own external staircase to make it independent of the one below. Although the accommodation was spartan, it was perfectly clean and the plumbing worked. Helm found that the flat had some rather disconcerting touches of rural charm, such as the emergency candles and the thermal blanket for the fridge a space-age metallized plastic sheet for keeping the heat out if the power went off. But he expected to be away from the area long before the novelty wore off. He tested the phone by calling the number supplied by the mechanic. There was a letter waiting for John Scott at the main post office in Athens.
His landlady, a black-clad, middle-aged woman with a rather oppressed expression, looked slightly less suicidal when he paid her four weeks' rent in advance. It seemed rather a waste if he had just one week to complete the job, but Bateman's orders had been quite specific. Helm dumped his cabin bag in the bedroom, thought about unpacking and set off instead for the city to get on with his job.
He found his way to Eolou Street on main roads after nearly killing a mangy donkey two kilometres out of Valaki. The beast just wandered across the road in front of him without looking to left or right, forcing a violent braking manoeuvre.
A mild skid on the dusty road helped neither the state of his nerves nor his temper. He was finding the weather much too hot. It made him feel sticky and sweaty, and his sunglasses had too weak a tint to reduce the glare to a comfortable level.
He nearly hit a reckless driver in a Renault dodgem car while he was watching a cream and green, Athenian trolley bus. Trolley buses were being touted as the next step to pollution-free public transport in England. Helm was surprised to find them an essential part of life in the Old World.
He collected a plain, manilla business envelope at the poste restante section of the central post office a busy place full of excitable foreigners. His latest envelope contained an old newspaper photograph and a sheet of A4 typing paper, which had been folded twice. His contact had supplied him with a list of places and times. They were the daily routine of a man with plenty of money, who enjoyed his leisure.
Four-thirty on a hot afternoon was too late to start any serious work. Helm decided to locate the addresses in the city, buying darker sunglasses on the way, and then return to his flat. After an early night and an early start to his Friday, he would be ready to tackle Phileros Makronotis if he had transliterated the Greek newspaper caption on his cutting correctly.
The picture showed a fat man of around sixty. His white panama hat matched his suit. He seemed to be attending the opening of something fairly significant. Makronotis occupied the entire third floor of the Hotel Renga on Elousis Square, according to the briefing notes. In the picture, he looked filthy rich enough to own the whole building, if not the rest of the square.
Helm parked the Fiat at a meter in the central section of the square. He tried coins until he found one that fitted the slot. After walking slowly past the Hotel Renga, he stopped at a café on the wide strip of pavement.
A waiter brought him a cup of what the menu called American Coffee. It tasted remarkably like good old British instant. A glass of Metaxas brandy made it more palatable. Looking around from the welcome shade of his table's umbrella, Helm decided that Elousis Square was a typical mixture of venerable hotels and office buildings of the same vintage, modern combinations of shops with offices above them, and the sprinkling of cafés for the tourists. In such an ancient city, the old and the new seemed to mingle more uneasily than elsewhere. Helm was on the wrong side of the square to have a view of the pollution-scarred Akropolis, but he could feel its disapproving presence.
Elousis Square offered a number of possibilities for making a video. Helm knew that he would have to see the security men in action before he made a decision on how to go about fulfilling his contract. When he had finished his coffee, he moved on a quarter of a mile to the Stock Exchange, to which Phileros Makronotis was driven between nine-thirty and ten on weekdays.
The Greek billionaire returned to his base at the hotel at about twelve-thirty, and spent an hour and a half there over lunch. After another session at the stock exchange building instead of an afternoon siesta, he returned to the hotel between four-thirty and five.
Makronotis had no fixed pattern of activity for his evenings. Helm assumed that he took a tribe of bodyguards to an exclusive restaurant or the billionaires' club or his private yacht when he wanted a change from his hotel.
Makronotis had a weekend villa on the east coast, almost thirty kilometres from the city centre in a straight line and on the other side of the peninsula from the airport noise. He also had a yacht berthed at Piraeus, the port city for Athens. A man with so many places to go, Helm decided, had to offer the occasional opportunity to a video cameraman.
Helm paid an outrageous price for an air-freighted copy of Wednesday's Daily Telegraph on Friday morning, reminding himself that he was on expenses, and he arrived at Elousis Square on foot having parked some distance away. He sat down at the same café and ordered more American Coffee.
He put a hearing aid-size ear-phone in his left ear and switched on a cheap radio. A news programme was about to start on the BBC World Service. He was surprised to hear a revolutionary ballad used as the signature tune.
Lillibullero, he remembered from a programme about The Glorious Revolution, mocked Irish Catholics and had swept James II out of three kingdoms. As the holder of an Irish Republic passport, Helm felt entitled to be offended.
Just before nine-thirty, a burly man dropped heavily onto a chair at the next table. "Good music?" he said to Helm in a jovial tone after spotting his Telegraph.
"BBC news." Helm pulled the earphone jack-plug out of the radio to give the other man a burst of a British newsreader.
"Ah, English radio?"
"No, Chinese." Helm turned the back of the radio to the heavyweight and pointed out Made In Hong Kong embossed in the red plastic.
"Chinese radio!" His neighbour laughed as if he had just hear the world's funniest joke, then he lit a cigarette.
A financial programme replaced the news. Helm returned the earphone to the compartment inside the plastic case and turned his attention to the newspaper. The waiter noticed his empty cup and hovered. Helm ordered a refill.
Two women on his right were eating what looked like sticky buns with currants. Helm pointed to them and said, "Enas ya may," trying to say 'one for me' in comprehensible Greek.
As the waiter looked toward the other table, Helm experienced a moment of panic. To his relief, the waiter realized that he wanted a sticky bun, not to pick up one of the women. The waiter nodded and headed back inside the café. Helm was glancing through his Telegraph when he became aware of something going on in front of the Hotel Renga.
Two men in lightweight suits were wandering about, talking into personal radios. A large, black Mercedes with tinted rear windows drew up moments later. Helm's beefy neighbour flicked a cigarette end over the heads of people on the pavement and into the road. Helm realized that there was something very odd about the man.
The chain-smoker on his left had been sitting at his table for almost ten minutes but none of the waiters had approached him. Helm turned round in his chair to look at the café's entrance, as if wondering if his waiter had sneaked off for a smoke instead of fetching his coffee. He had a view along the pavement when he looked straight ahead again. He positioned his paper so that no one could tell if he was reading an article at the top of a page or peeping over it at the black Mercedes.
A man in a white suit, fat but not grossly so, strolled out of the hotel and set a straight course for his car. He left avoiding action to other users of his broad stretch of pavement. Helm counted up to ten before the fat man was out of sight again.
The remaining fifty-nine minutes and fifty seconds of a V60 cassette would be extremely blank, Helm told himself, if that was the full extent of Phileros Makronotis' performance.
If the client wanted a full cassette, and Helm could tape four arrivals and departures at the hotel every day, he would be stuck in Athens until around Christmas. Using candles when the lights went out in Valaki would have lost its charm long before them. The thought of a small fortune rotting unspent in his building society account would drive him mad with frustration if he lived that long.
Helm watched the twelve-thirty exit performance from the stock exchange from the other side of a fairly narrow street, trying to look like someone wondering whether to risk a short sprint in front of speeding cars. The men with radios arrived at 12:28. The Mercedes arrived three minutes later. Phileros Makronotis was out of sight in just four seconds.
Helm had some exotic, foreign food for lunch fish and chips at what was described as a British restaurant near the town hall. The waiter delivered skinny french fries instead of chunky, deep-fried chips, but the fish was very good and he was hungry.
Helm went exploring after his meal. The city's huge market was an overwhelming sight. The stalls seemed to stretch for miles along a wide, straight road. Helm was prepared to believe that all the fish and vegetables in the world had been gathered in a single display for the people of Athens as a sort of giant, organic sculpture.
There were ouzo joints instead of gin joints in what he thought of as the downtown area, at the foot of the Hill of Ares. The massage parlours and the clubs looked universal, all dedicated to making the customer think that the time that he got was good enough to persuade him to empty his wallet. There were souvenir shops in abundance for the less adventurous visitors.
Helm bought a mid-blue, zip-up jacket and a white sunhat at one shop, and a pair of mirror sunglasses at another. He felt a lot cooler with his leather jacket in a carrier bag. The temperature was in 'phew, what a scorcher!' territory apparently the August norm for Athens.
The sun felt more like a spray-on tonic on this second day in Greece. The more it shone, the better Helm felt, but he could still appreciate the cool zone downwind of the largest fountain in Sintagma Square.
Helm was glad of his disguise when he returned to Elousis Square. There was a man with a radio on duty at the café in the garden centre, opposite the Hotel Renga. Makronotis emerged just before two o'clock. His bodyguards gave Helm an unrehearsed demonstration of their efficiency.
A woman with a dog, who looked to be on a collision course with their boss, suddenly found herself doing a dance with the radioman. He stepped unerringly into her path as she tried to go round him. Then he turned back to the hotel when Makronotis had reached his car safely.
The black Mercedes, with a different number plate from the morning car, left for the afternoon session at the stock exchange. Helm noticed that the radioman at the café continued to make reports for a further five minutes before returning to the hotel. Wondering about the possibilities of a video-camera concealed in a parcel or an item of personal luggage, Helm returned to his car to consult the road map. He wanted to get out of the city.
Athens is like Los Angeles in that it is surrounded by hills that trap the smog created out of vehicle exhausts. The day before had been a little windier and smog-free. This day was calm, hot and not suitable for someone unused to breathing destructive chemicals.
A cop approached him and started to give him ear-ache in too-rapid Greek. It took some time for Helm to get a word in to explain that he was English and he didn't really speak the language. Eventually, he realized that the cop's sign language meant that he had a car with an odd-numbered registration plate and it was Friday the 20th, an even date. Avreeo, tomorrow, was okay but not today.
The cop took charge of his map to explain that parking the car in Piraeus and taking a bus into the city on even dates was the proper thing to do if he was unable to get hold of a reserve car with even-numbered plates for even dates.
When he had got his message across, the cop seemed quite apologetic about issuing a ticket for a fixed-penalty spot-fine. As he was on expenses, Helm paid up without protest. He did wonder why Bateman had not issued him with two cars, however.
Phileros Makronotis' villa on the opposite coast stood on the highest piece of ground for at least a mile. Helm pulled in to the side of a country road. He strolled across spiky grass toward the sea. There was no clear cliff-edge. The slope just got steeper and steeper until the grass gave up at a rocky slide to a pebble beach. He could see more land across a wide channel Evvoia and an unresolvable off-shore island, according to his map.
The inevitable ferry was moving from right to left, heading for Rafina on the mainland. Following its course with his eyes gave Helm a legitimate excuse to look north toward the Makronotis villa. He could see a boundary wall of dark stone, the upper floor of a white-walled building and a roof of terracotta tiles. He was wondering if Makronotis had anti-aircraft guns to discourage hang-gliders when a voice behind him made his heart leap guiltily.
Helm barely remembered Plan A. Turning, he pulled back his sleeve to show his watch. "Treese para pente."
"Ah, you are English," said a beefy man with a dark and dangerous-looking Doberman on a short chain with a quick release. The dog looked decidedly unfriendly. "You think I ask the time?" added its master.
"I've no idea," Helm told him with what he hoped was a disarming smile, "but it seems to satisfy most people."
"You are on holiday?"
"Yes, taking a look at your country." Helm remembered an improvised Plan B. "I was wondering about the ferry. If it came from anywhere interesting."
"From Gavrion on Andros, a small island seventy kilometres away. Not very interesting."
"Just as well. I'm really on my way to Marathon. Does the road get any better?"
"Past Rafina. Where the ferry goes."
Helm looked at his watch again. "Five to three. Do you know how long it takes to get there? Marathon?"
"About twenty minutes."
"I'll get going, then. I'll be more than ready for a long, cold drink when I get there. Your weather's marvellous but it doesn't half give you a thirst."
"You should try the Café Klostros in the main square. The one with the green umbrellas. They have many European beers."
"Right, I'll do that."
Helm returned to his car, taking care not to get too close to the dog, which looked ready and willing to take a chunk out of his leg. The drive to Marathon took twenty-five minutes. An old truck with a vast load of hay seemed to be trying to collect a world-record-length queue beyond Rafina.
Helm took a sadistic delight in cutting in viciously when he managed to get past it. He watched the load sway dangerously in his mirror as the driver twitched.
He had started a trend. Helm noticed that the next over-taker also cut in on the truck. It had not crashed by the time he left it behind out of sight, but disaster seemed inevitable rather than just possible. The Greeks, he had heard, can be as vindictive as Southern Italians. All they needed, it seemed, was an evil-minded, synthetic Irishman to show them a dirty trick.
After two bottles of the ubiquitous Heineken lager and a quick look round an ordinary small town with a name that was part of world history, Helm headed back toward Athens. He had realized that the man with the Doberman had appeared with disconcerting suddenness near the villa.
The Makronotis security system seemed so efficient that Helm was sure that someone would phone the café in Marathon to make sure that a tourist with a white hat and a blue cotton jacket had turned up, as promised. And then, with any luck, he would be forgotten.
Helm drove round Athens to Piraeus and returned to the city by bus. He arrived just in time to watch Phileros Makronotis return to his hotel. The black Mercedes, which had an odd-numbered plate, circled Elousis Square twice before the radiomen called it in for a ten-second parade across the pavement.
When the bus unloaded him in Piraeus, Helm called his contact again from a public telephone to ask about the videocamera. He had to wait a good two minutes to get through. His contact told him to look in the Fiat's boot, behind the spare tyre.
When he got back to his car, Helm was not to surprised to find that the spare tyre was flat and there were no batteries in the camera. A helpful assistant in a nearby shop sold him a set of working batteries and a set of spares, and two V60 tape cassettes. At the garage, the sad-looking mechanic exchanged the spare for a wheel with an inflated tyre and apologized for the error.
His failure to ask for payment told Helm that respect for Mr. Lane's power exceeded the natural impulse toward insolence of a self-employed businessman. The sad-face put on a thin smile when Helm mentioned his problem about having an odd-numbered plate on an even day.
The mechanic thought it quite funny when Helm went on to mention that he should have been issued with a set of revolving number plates with different numbers, as James Bond would have received. There was a sticker on the right side of the windscreen. Helm had ignored it because it was in Greek and he had no idea what it was about.
The mechanic told him that the sticker was supposed to tell greedy cops that the owner of the car had paid a whacking premium for the privilege of having access to Athens on any day of the week. Clearly, an enterprising cop had spotted a sucker. Helm felt even more glad that he was on expenses.
A café conveniently close to his flat provided a meal of grilled red mullet, crumbly, local bread and seductively smooth red wine, which could persuade a man with a very low haemoglobin level to go over his limit. Fortified, and only one glass over his limit, Helm made an amateur video of Valaki and the sea-traffic in the bay from the flat part of his roof.
He experimented with the zoom control and the effect of lighting conditions on the quality of the images as the evening darkened. The camera was light and simple to operate. Given the opportunity, capturing Phileros Makronotis on tape would be a point-and-press-the-button job.
A call to Mr. Lane the next morning told Helm that his target intended to spend Saturday on his yacht. Helm was in Piraeus in good time to watch the arrival of the bodyguards and then their master. The black Mercedes parked in an area of the marina that was closed to the general public. Makronotis took just twelve seconds to travel from his car, down a flight of concrete steps and into the cabin of a launch.
Helm had his videocamera in his cabin bag. With the strap at its shortest setting, the bag fitted snugly under his arm. If he cut a hole in the end for the lens, and another in the side to give more certain access to the on-off button, he could have an effective candid-camera system.
As the launch pulled away, he was glad that he had not vandalized his cabin bag. There had been no opportunity for a clear shot at the billionaire from pavement level and Helm had been inspected at least once by a young man with a hearing aid, who looked like the Greek equivalent of a US Secret Service presidential bodyguard.
Three others of the same breed were in circulation in the danger area, two men and a woman, making no attempt to hide the contrast between white wires and tanned skin. All of them looked young, vigilant and dangerous.
If they were so visible, Helm told himself, there had to be others lurking unseen in among the gangs of tourists and the locals. The job had to be a whole lot more difficult that just putting a camera in a bag and pointing it at the right time. It wouldn't be worth ú25,000 plus expenses otherwise.
As he strolled around, Helm took care to keep both hands away from his cabin bag. The guards, he told himself, would check hundreds of people every day. Their eyes would pass over the crowd, stopping only if they detected what could be a threatening movement. Helm wanted to remain just another tourist wandering about on the quayside, someone with no previous history if he ever attracted attention in the future. That way lay relative safety he hoped.
Phileros Makronotis spent Sunday at his villa. Having written off the country retreat as a dead loss, Robert Helm took a day off with a clear conscience. He was changing his clothes two, three, even four times a day in the boiling hot weather, and he had an urgent appointment with his flat's washing machine. Fortunately, getting things dried and applying the sterilizing effect of a good dose of sunlight posed no problems.
Helm was back in Elousis Square on Monday, using the same café because the waiter had written the Greek for 'sticky bun' in his phrasebook. Helm was washing his bun down with the usual American Coffee when his friend crash-landed at the next table. The beefy bodyguard raised a hand in greeting, showing off a collection of gold rings, then pointed to Helm's radio.
Helm smiled pleasantly as the big man had a good laugh, then a better cough. A waiter brought a glass of iced water and gave the bodyguard a light for his Lucky Strike. Helm, glancing through Saturday's Daily Telegraph, switched off his radio when the financial programme started. He signalled to the waiter and pointed to his coffee cup.
He refused to look up when the black Mercedes arrived at the Hotel Renga. His peripheral vision showed him a moving white object. Helm took no notice of it, raising his paper to fold it to another inside page as the silent limousine moved out into the traffic. It had the wrong registration number for an odd date but Helm assumed that it had one of the premium stickers. Or even that it was electrically powered and pollutionless if it was so quiet.
The bodyguard was still there when Helm finished his coffee. A movement caught the Greek's eye. Helm lifted a hand as a gesture of farewell, then pulled his hat down over his eyes in readiness for the shock of moving out of deep shadow into the burning, summer sunshine.
An almost familiar voice answered at lunchtime when Helm used his telephone number to inquire about Makronotis' movements for the evening. The new Mr. Lane had an English instead of a Greek accent. There was an impatient if not downright sinister note in the contact's voice.
His confidence shaken by the implied 'hurry up and get the job done' in the English voice, Helm went for a walk instead of stopping somewhere for lunch. Half an hour later, he had thought himself into a more positive frame of mind, restoring his appetite at the same time. Thrusting, dynamic John Scott was the man in charge, not out-of-his-depth Robert Helm. Scott set the pace. He was the one gambling what could be the residue of a shortened life for ú25,000. Back in London, Bateman had given Scott a whole week to do the job. Their contract called for video pictures of Phileros Makronotis. Nothing had been said about quality or how many or early delivery.
The more he replayed the telephone conversation in his mind, and worked out things that he should have said instead of making spineless apologies the more Helm became convinced that the new Mr. Lane was Bateman. Bateman's presence in Greece altered the equation considerably.
It raised the possibility that he could be a traitor working from within the Makronotis Organization. If so, the quality of his information would be first-class and reliable. But Helm remained in acute danger if he were to be spotted by the gangs of bodyguards. On the other hand, if Bateman was using him to run some sort of security check, Helm was unlikely to end up at the bottom of Piraeus Bay as concrete-booted mullet-food if he gave himself away.
If it was all a test, he might just be able to get away with some sort of Kamikaze dash from the café with his videocamera as Makronotis was crossing the pavement to his car if nothing else came to mind. But if it wasn't a test, he was liable to end up on the pavement leaking from a dozen bullet holes. He had to guess how much caution to use.
He kept running up against the distinct possibility that John Scott was being used as part of a plot to kill Phileros Makronotis. Helm found that he could justify a decision to carry on by concluding that anyone with as much money as Makronotis had enjoyed his life thus far.
If he did die, it would be his own fault for failing to spend enough of his billions on security. Anything can be justified by someone with a strong enough motive, Helm told himself. Conventional morality no longer applied to someone who believed that he might be doomed.
Helm spent the afternoon on the Hill of Ares, looking at the ruins and thinking about his assignment. He refused to believe that even a trained professional could have achieved more than himself in three days.
The only qualification offered to Bateman, alias the new Mr. Lane, had been a medical condition and the possibility that it would kill the special agent in the near future. Imminent death is supposed to sharpen the perceptions, Helm knew, but in practice, he found that it offers no guarantees of increased intelligence or ingenuity.
While he was doing his thinking, he wondered about his doctor's reaction to a message delivered via the receptionist on the morning of his departure for Greece. There was either a sentence of death or a message of hope in Robert Helm's file at the health centre. This was the first time that he had thought about the test results since stepping off the airliner in Athens airport.
No doubt Dr. Bennett was baffled by his patient's cavalier attitude to his fate swanning off abroad on a business trip instead of waiting for the most important news of his life. The simple truth of the matter was that Helm didn't feel particularly ill at that moment and he had no intention of worrying about the state of his health until some real symptoms became apparent. At any rate, something more incapacitating than his abnormally low haemoglobin level.
At the same time, he knew that cancers are cells out of control. They can double in size in weeks or less, and if a surgeon tries to cut them out, rogue cells can leap into the bloodstream to invade less accessible parts of the body. He knew that fast action can lead to successful treatment. Lingering pessimism warned him that things can still go dreadfully wrong for the unlucky few. He had no reason to believe that Robert Helm was specially privileged in the luck department.
The germ of an idea began to form as he forced his thoughts from possible futures to the hard fact of earning his ú25,000. Another trip to Elousis Square on Tuesday morning put him back to square one. The corners of the square lay at the cardinal points of the compass. A main road formed the north-to-east side. Makronotis' hotel faced that road, on the south-to-west side and about a third of the way along from the southern corner of the square.
Helm's brilliant idea had been to make his video from an upper-floor window on the south-to-east side of the square. It foundered on the rock of practicality. The office buildings had receptionists in the lobby, uniformed security men on the prowl and no To Let signs for someone wanting to hire an office for a month or so.
There were doors to be seen in the shops and restaurants but Helm lacked the cheek to blunder through one of them in search of a staircase to an upper floor. He also lacked sufficient Greek to try to talk his way past a suspicious receptionist in an office building. If he had to try it, it was strictly a one-shot plan.
If the security men threw him out, or even politely escorted a confused foreigner to the door, they would turn him over to the police if he tried the same trick in another building. Helm was sure that the Makronotis security network picked up all such disturbances in the square's routine.
He spent three hours at the café in the centre of Elousis Square, wrestling with his problem and the main crossword in Saturday's Telegraph. He preferred to remain outdoors in the shade of an umbrella instead of taking refuge in one of the air-conditioned buildings. He had found that there was a time-lag before his body realized that it no longer needed to sweat.
Unevaporated sweat made his clothes cling uncomfortably, leaving him feeling soggy and crumpled. It was much better to stay outside on a day when there was a bit of a breeze to punch holes in the smog-ceiling, hide behind his sunglasses and drink plenty of American Coffee, soft drinks or bottles of Heineken to replace lost fluids.
He had found that sunglasses are a necessity for a blue-eyed Nordic type, not a vanity. Dazzling reflections sparkled from every light surface, including his cheeks. He understood now why American footballers paint black strips under their eyes not just to look fierce but to cut down on glare.
The light was so bright that he could capture a detailed after-image by opening and closing his eyes quickly. He could freeze-frame passers-by on one leg and in all the other weird postures of walking. If he closed his eyes then flicked them open, performing a series of reverse-blinks, he could reduce the city's charging, mainly even-numbered traffic to a succession of stills, like a film played at ultra-slow-speed. He was amusing himself with this secret diversion after a leisurely lunch when his brilliant idea burst upon him.
This, he knew, was one that had to work. He was back in business.