THE OLD MAN LOOKED about eighty. He was on the short side, almost bald and he had a complexion like an old, brown-leather shoe. He was out of the same box as the old men who gathered in Valaki's bars in their dark blue peaked caps, swinging plastic worry beads and remembering when they were young and in charge. This old man had a posh, white suit and red socks. He also had a heavy object in the right-hand pocket of his lightweight jacket.
In the villa's spacious hall, the old man let Helm take a long look at a self-loading pistol just like Tsai's. He put it away again as he pointed to a dark brown door. Helm found himself in a washroom. His first thought was whether he could remove the frosted slats of the louvred window. A black Doberman guard dog wandered past outside. Helm discarded the idea.
When he had finished in the washroom, the old man took him to an adjoining room. It was small, bare and it had a mosaic floor of dolphins and geometric designs. The window was half-open - onto the area patrolled by the Doberman and a couple of his mates.
Helm lowered his bruises onto one of the two black-leather chairs, which stood on either side of a dark table that was inlaid with gold wire and mother-of-pearl. Assorted glasses, a bottle of Courvoisier cognac and a bedewed bottle of mineral water stood on the table.
"Have a drink," said the old man.
Helm had remembered, just in time, that it might not be safe to drink from the washroom cold tap. The chilled litre bottle of mineral water was half empty after his first assault. He filled the glass again, then he remembered to look at his watch. It was ten past nine. He had been hanging around in his black hole for an hour and a half.
The old man had poured himself a healthy measure of cognac - he clearly had no inhibitions about drinking alcohol so early in the morning and he had lit a flattened, Turkish cigarette, which seemed a rather radical gesture for a Greek. He fixed Helm with a penetrating stare from the other armchair.
"Your name is John Scott. You were born in Kilkenny in the Irish Republic thirty-one years ago. You have an English accent. Your parents emigrated when you were very young?"
Helm replied with a shrug. The matter was unimportant.
"And now, you are here in my country to spy on Phileros. There two are ways to loosen your tongue. Three, if we include letting the Dobermans have you instead of Phileros' Imperial Guard. You saw two of them when you arrived all over two metres tall."
"I should have thought ways one and two are quite enough," shuddered Helm. "What's way one?"
"I am. How much do you know about the man you are spying on?"
"He's got pots of money. I suppose he owns that hotel in Elousis Square? Along with his yacht, this villa and lots of other bits and pieces the length and breadth of this ancient land. And abroad. Not to mention the local police."
"Phileros is a man of wealth, influence and honour. He began humbly, as an orphan, who seemed destined to become just a shepherd. Then, when he was about twenty years old, he found parts of a statue from Classical times. He showed them to a professor of archaeology, who paid him a small sum to be taken to the site, dug up the rest of the statue, restored it and accepted the credit for reviving a lost piece of our cultural heritage.
"There was no credit for the humble shepherd, of course. So, when he continued to explore the site, and he found a cave full of intact statues, he forgot the professor. He sold a statue to an Armenian trader in antiquities. Who cheated him, of course. But he had sold the most insignificant of the statues and he learned the worth of the others.
"His next sale was direct to a collector. He sold everything in cave over the next two years. It contained both Greek and Roman relics. We believe a party of Romans, looting for their emperor, were ambushed by patriotic Greeks. If they were not wiped out, the survivors were too afraid to return to the cave.
"This accident of history was the foundation of the Makronotis fortune. Phileros used the money from the statues to finance other deals and to educate himself. Did you know the former orphan shepherd now holds two doctorates?"
"I don't know his shoe size either." Helm refused to be impressed.
"The Irish are said to be a humorous race." The old man let the criminal ignorance of a spy pass with a mocking smile of disbelief. "Phileros built his start in the business world into a vast fortune. He was in shipping, including oil tankers, when it was profitable. He diversified his interests, moving constantly from the old to the coming market. But all the time, he remembered how he began.
"As a man of honour, he knows the statues belong in Greece. This is why he buys them back. One day, when the collection is complete again, it will be discovered anew and presented to the nation with a museum to house it."
"All right." Helm shrugged. "All successful businessmen have the instincts of crooks. Makronotis is a crook with a conscience. What's that got to do with the price of fish?"
"It tells you what sort of man you have spied on. With immense wealth comes great power and influence. I need not remind you how you arrived here, Mr. Scott."
"All right, so he can order the police around. I'm impressed. Is that what you want me to say?"
"I want a complete account of how you came to be in my country who sent you, how much you were paid, what your assignment is and your progress with it."
"You don't want bloody much, do you?"
"If I have to use force to make you talk, you may be killed accidentally. Do you doubt we could ask the police to inform the Irish embassy of a fatal car crash?"
"What's to keep me out of the crash even if I talk?"
"The personal guarantee of Phileros Makronotis?"
"Which is worth what?" scoffed Helm. "In his villa, miles from anywhere with no witnesses who'd dare contradict him?"
"Think for a moment, Mr. Scott. On that basis you have two choices. One, you talk and we kill you. Two, we torture you, you talk and we kill you."
"Put like that, there's no choice at all."
"I thought you looked a sensible young man. I will tell Phileros. He should be here within half an hour."
"Do I get to know your name? Or will you answer to 'Hey, you!' when more people get here?"
"Ianos Makronotis. Phileros' foster father. I gave him a name and a home. He has shown me the world and encouraged me to educate myself. I have the face of an old peasant but the manners of a gentleman. I am also completely loyal to my adopted son. As he is to me."
"You've created your own order of chivalry?"
"You could call it that. Make no attempt to leave this room. You might find it...painful."
Helm poured out the last of his bottle of water as the old man left. He had fallen into the clutches of a self-made man with a murky past, which Phileros Makronotis proposed to rewrite for his own greater glory. The reason why Helm was a prisoner now was that his employer, the suddenly elusive Mr. Bateman, had left him high and dry for no reason. And if Bateman had failed to take his chance, it was time for Helm to think of number one and take the best deal available.
Phileros Makronotis arrived ten minutes late but he offered no apology. He brought his own leather chair into the small room, pushing it on smooth-running castors. There were no bodyguards present but his foster father kept his right hand in the bulging pocket of his jacket.
Makronotis was half a head shorter than Helm and a good four stones heavier. He carried his bulk with an unhurried grace. He was clearly happy with his size and not the sort of person to apologize for deviating from the ideal weight for his height.
He looked cool, calm and collected. The deadly, casual insult sprang automatically into Helm's mind: 'Yer don't sweat much for a fat lad!' He knew better than to voice it, however. Makronotis might be civilized enough to laugh off abuse from a prisoner. On the other hand, he might have a Mafioso's appetite for fear-induced submission. He might call in one of his Imperial Guard to swat the offender.
The old man had brought another bottle of water. Helm refilled his glass, telling himself that it was too late to worry about truth drugs and re-sealed bottles. Ianos poured himself more brandy as his foster son made himself comfortable. The leather chairs were soft and silent. They made no farting noises when someone moved on them.
"Begin," commanded Phileros Makronotis.
"Almost three weeks ago, I put an advert in several British papers," said Helm. "It read: 'Man with terminal condition, not incapacitated as yet, seeks hazardous work for highest pay.' I went into hospital for an exploratory operation, then I met a client. That was two weeks ago tomorrow. The man's name is Bateman. He paid me twenty-five thousand pounds to get you on videotape.
"I arrived here the next day, a Thursday. I took the pictures of you on the Wednesday and Thursday of the following week. Then I tried to deliver the cassette to a contact over here. He kept putting me off. I tried to meet him at various places, including the café that was blown up yesterday. That's where I met your agent, Miss Yuan-lin. Then we were in a car crash this morning..."
"Yes, yes." Makronotis dismissed the crash with a wave of a large hand that was laden with gold rings. "Where is the cassette now?"
"Under a rock two point two kilometres from Valaki on the Athens road. It's roughly heart-shaped with a big bunch of purple flowers growing just behind it."
Ianos Makronotis went to a telephone somewhere behind Helm. He issued brief orders in Greek.
"Describe Bateman," said Phileros Makronotis.
"About forty-five," said Helm. "About your height, average sort of build, dark hair going grey, wears a green cap, sounds like he's from London."
"An interesting story. Tell me now why I should believe it."
"Check on it, and you won't find any holes. The advert's in back numbers of the newspapers. And you're on the videocassette."
"You are dying? You expect me to believe that was your reason for taking the job?"
"It's not as simple as that. I haven't had the results of some tests yet. I shot over here the day after I had the operation. I've still got the stitches in me."
Makronotis took a personal radio from his pocket. Helm caught the word yatros, which he knew means 'doctor'. The rest was beyond his limited Greek. A tall man in a white labcoat brought a black case into the room a few minutes later the billionaire's personal physician. Helm described as much as he could remember of what had happened in the hospital. Then he took off his sweatshirt.
"How do you know this wound was not caused by the bomb?" Makronotis said in English as the doctor peeled off a dressing.
"See how it has healed?" said the doctor. "I would say it is two weeks old. The stitches should come out."
"Help yourself," said Helm, feeling like a side of beef being examined by two meat inspectors.
Scissors snipped. Emerging stitches tugged at his flesh. The doctor went round Helm's back, ripping off plasters. Just two needed replacing. Helm lowered his trousers and lost a little more dark body-hair. The doctor applied one fresh dressing, and used a pair of tweezers to haul out a half-inch needle of glass, which had started to emerge from Helm's left thigh. He repacked his case and left in response to a nod of thanks from Phileros Makronotis.
"So part of your story is true," said Makronotis. "Not that I believe all of it yet. The checks will continue."
The billionaire left the room at his confident, stately pace the same irresistible force that Helm had watched crossing the pavement in Elousis Square. Makronotis opened the door for his foster father and let him go first. Helm poured himself another glass of mineral water. He had developed a nervous thirst.
A few minutes later, he realized that he would have to make room if he intended to drink any more. He crossed the door to the hall, heels tapping on the mosaic floor, and tried the handle. To his surprise, it turned. The hall was empty. The Doberman and its mates were still prowling around beyond the washroom's louvred window.
Helm made use of the facilities, washed with pink, scented soap and dried his hands on a thick, white towel with a blue border and a µ monogram in one corner to remind him that Greek billionaires put their initials on their towels in their native language.
He returned to the room with the armchairs apparently unobserved, suspecting that the lack of interest in his movements was a psychological ploy designed to intimidate him. The message seemed to be: Try running away and see how far you get!
His luggage arrived a short while later. Helm tried his Chinese radio. Nothing happened when he switched it on. He refused to believe that the batteries were dead. Someone had replaced them the wrong way round. Someone had unscrewed the fasteners to look inside the radio's case. There were fresh, sharp scratches on the plastic around the screws.
The batteries in his electric razor were facing the right way but the screw heads bore a screwdriver's traces. Helm had no system for packing his cabin bag but he was sure that it had been searched, along with his carrier bag. Clearly, Phileros Makronotis employed a security staff that left little to chance. When they hoped to find was a mystery unless they expected Helm to have a full range of bugs and other James Bondery.
There was a French programme on the BBC World Service. Helm twiddled the tuning dial until he found a fast-talking Italian, who was playing British and American rock music. He sprawled in his chair and drank the last of his mineral water. Makronotis and his ancient foster-father were back in the room before Helm noticed them. Wearing a pained expression, the billionaire asked him to turn the noise off.
"I received these facsimiles from London." Makronotis handed several flimsy sheets of slick, A4-size paper to Helm. "You were telling the truth about your advertisement."
Helm just glanced at the blocky reproductions of sections from back issues of British newspapers. He refused to be impressed by the routine use of modern technology. Lancer & Stowe could do just as well. The advertisement looked quite impressive, though, and it stood out from the boring rubbish around it in each of the newspapers.
"I now have a copy of your video," added Makronotis. "The original has been resealed exactly as you packed it and buried again in exactly the same place."
"That was a waste of time for a start," scoffed Helm. "My client hasn't seen it, so he has no idea where I put it or how I wrapped it."
"I see no harm in being thorough. You will now telephone to your client to arrange another meeting."
Ianos Makronotis had removed the empty mineral water bottles to make room for the telephone. Helm dialled his contact number, assuming that the call was being recorded elsewhere in the villa. As usual, he heard five rings, then a succession of soft beeps.
"Yeah?" said a male voice after a delay of ten seconds.
"It's John Scott," said Helm. "Calling Mr. Lane." With a sense of inner contentment, he used the code to warn Mr. Lane that he was under duress or surveillance. He enjoyed putting one over on the all-powerful Makronotis under his very nose.
Bateman/Lane responded to the request for a meeting by giving him the address of a restaurant in the suburbs of Athens, and promised to be there at eight o'clock. Lane gave no sign that he knew that his agent had pushed the panic button and Helm resisted, with an effort, an impulse to grin.
"Thank you, Mr. Scott." Phileros Makronotis smiled at him when Helm had replaced the receiver. "You are being extremely co-operative."
"The other Mr. Makronotis said it would be easier for your police to explain away an accident if the victim still had all his finger- and toenails." said Helm.
Phileros Makronotis looked at his foster-father and swallowed a smile. The beats of a helicopter's rotors filtered in through the half-open window. It landed nearby for a few moments, then took off again. One of the Imperial Guardsmen entered from the hall, pushing a trolley laden with a silver coffee service, cups and a plate of fancy biscuits.
Another large bodyguard pushed another trolley into the room as coffee was being served. This trolley sported a television set and a videorecorder. The bodyguard plugged everything in to a socket near the telephone point, and handed the remote controller to his boss.
Makronotis played Helm's tape when the bodyguards had gone. He saw himself leave his hotel in Elousis Square four times and arrive four times. In between were five long sequences showing passers-by in front of the Hotel Renga but not Phileros Makronotis.
"An interesting viewpoint," he said after a second viewing of the tape. "Taken from one of the second-floor windows overlooking the main entrance to my hotel?"
"Close, but no cigar," Helm said through a mouthful of chocolate biscuit. Breakfast was a distant memory. The prisoner was taking a hearty elevenses. His distressed metabolism was crying out for food.
"I thought about a window, but I couldn't work out how to get to one at any time of my choosing," said Helm. "The roof was out, too. Your people check every part of every building that overlooks the entrance to your hotel with their binoculars. But if you go down to the nearest corner of the square from the Hotel Renga, there's a car showroom for big, expensive cars, a café, a dress shop for the well-off and another hotel on the corner. The Anatoli. A lot cheaper than yours. Next to it, making the corner, there's a fur shop and a jewellers. Above both of them is a large neon sign. You must have seen it millions of times. Red and white letters."
"You put your camera on the advertising sign? How?" frowned Makronotis.
"I noticed a frosted window belonging to the hotel that was level with the sign. It's a bathroom shared by the people on that floor. All I had to do was book in at the Hotel Anatoli for a couple of days, wait till the middle of the night, reach out of the bathroom window, clamp my camera to the sign and line it up.
"I had a simple radio-control unit with a start button. Switch on to start the camera, switch off to stop it. The unit also picked up some stray signals from someone else. Those were the parts when you weren't in the shot. I taped you going and coming at the hotel last Wednesday and Thursday. Then I recovered the camera and wrapped up the tape ready for delivery."
"You could have put a gun there instead of a videocamera," said Ianos Makronotis.
"That occurred to me," nodded Helm. "My client could have been looking for a new approach to assassination. I was thinking about giving your hotel a ring from the airport on my way home. To drop a hint to your security mob."
"Was this a vague idea or a firm plan?" said Phileros Makronotis.
"One or the other." Helm's smile gave nothing away. In fact, the idea had just occurred to him, but there was no harm in muddying the waters.
Makronotis ejected the cassette from the player. He left again with his foster-father, opening the door for the old man on the way out. When he had been alone for five minutes, Helm decided to make use of the telephone. He had to press so many keys to call Maidstone from Greece that he got lost half way through. He was more careful with his next attempt.
Dr. Bennett's receptionist assumed that Helm was ringing to make an appointment at last. Helm needed another test. He told the receptionist that he was stuck in Greece which was the literal truth and added that he hoped to be home in a few days. He felt like ending with a mocking laugh as he replaced the receiver. Home in a wooden box looked a distinct possibility if old Ianos got his way.
A quarter of an hour later, when the coffee pot and the biscuit plate were empty, an Imperial Guardsman opened the door. He pointed to Helm's luggage and beckoned. Helm followed him across the hall to an empty broom cupboard; which began to descend unexpectedly. Helm's next destination was a small sitting room at cell level.
His new quarters contained two wooden chairs with green padding, a couch upholstered in matching deep, acid green, a metal table with a white plastic top and a tall window. Helm crossed to it immediately, wondering how an underground room could have a window. He discovered that the villa had two levels. A ledge on the cliff face had been fenced off as a terrace.
An Imperial Guardsman was leaning against the terrace's guard-rail, back to the sea. Helm climbed into the window recess to find out who needed the sentry. With a rush of surprise, he recognized the man in the beach chair. He was middle-aged, tanned, wearing a dark green cloth cap even though he was in the shade, and his name was sometimes Bateman.