NOVELS PAGE
TITLE PAGE
010203
040506
070809
101112
131415
161718
192021
The Terminal Man
by Philip Turner
Chapter 8

HELM SWITCHED THE RADIO on and poured some Courvoisier into his Parthenon mug. He remembered that he hadn't received any change from his $150 of traveller's cheques but his host had seen the rest of the book. Betrayal was unlikely until the old man had extracted them, signed, from the fugitive. Helm wondered what had happened to the gun. Parting with it so readily seemed a mistake now – yet he knew that he would not use it to evade arrest. Shooting a psychopath who had been trying to kill him was one thing. Cold-blooded murder was quite another.
   He could always shoot to wound, or just use the weapon for intimidation, however. Helm reminded himself that the terminal condition of his adverts remained a real possibility. He didn't feel ill, just sick at heart at the amount of trouble that he was in, but he had no idea what insidious forces were at work inside his body.
   He was a wanted man in Greece. If the Greeks threw him in gaol for even a couple of months, he might be losing a large chunk of the rest of his life. Worse, he might lose the chance to receive life-saving treatment. If there was nothing wrong with him, he could afford to wait to clear his name.
   If the worst was true, he was entitled to make strenuous efforts to get away – at least as far as 250 and $200 in traveller's cheques would take him.
   Above all, he had to force himself to take a wartime fighter pilot's attitude to his problems – concentrate fully on getting through today, don't waste time worrying about tomorrow and don't even think about the day after.
   Searching the hut was a quick operation. There were just four cupboards. He found the pistol in a tin box, along with several medals and a selection of badges of both British and German regiments. Helm felt a little better with a couple of pounds of Italian-made intimidation dragging at his anorak.
   The motorbike chugged back a few minutes later. Taxacaris had two jerrycans of petrol strapped to panniers on either side of the rear wheel, and another carton strapped to the pillion seat. His dog watched the unloading operation from the shade of a bush ten yards from the hut before closing his eyes again. It was a hot morning. The temperature seemed to be heading for the thirties again.
   Enough rain to turn an average English moorland into a swamp had just vanished. The vegetation seemed a little greener but the wasteland looked as dusty and as thirsty as ever. Helm could see a mountain beyond a low hill behind the hut. That direction was north. He wondered if he would talk the old man into taking a seventy- or eighty-mile round trip beyond the mountain to give him a ride to Corinth.
   Demosthenes Taxacaris had trimmed his white beard. He looked quite smart in a new, emerald green, cotton jacket over a red-tartan lumberjack shirt. He had bought four litres of mineral water for his guest. He presented Helm with an Olympic Airways flight bag containing a facecloth, two towels, a bar of green soap in a plastic container, a blue plastic comb and the shaving cream that he had forgotten to buy the night before.
   "You have listened to the radio?" He looked at the heavy pocket of Helm's new anorak. It was hardly the weather for wearing such a garment, even in the relative cool of the hut.
   "If you think I'm a danger to you, I'll go," said Helm.
   "I have seen many dangerous men." Taxacaris put on a wise smile to tell Helm that he looked harmless enough. "And I have seen English soldiers on the run from Germans. I will make coffee. Tell me your story."
   Helm shed his anorak and put it on his bunk. Three white marble figures on a nearby shelf unit caught his eye. They were a foot high and they had suffered some superficial damage, but it failed to detract from their obviously superb workmanship.
   Taxacaris added cognac to the mugs of coffee. Helm took the chairs outside and completed an outline of the events of the past fortnight. He was more definite about his lack of future than he felt. The story made more sense if he was taking risks so that he could go out with a bang, and he had realized the night before that having 75,000 meant that he could spend 1,000 a week for eighteen months, or 2,000 a week for nine, or 5,000 a week for about three months. That was worth fighting for with any allies available
   When Helm got to his arrival at the hut the previous night, Taxacaris nodded. "Yes, that is what he would do. If his granddaughter was safe, he would not care about the money. Can you imagine a man who does not care about a million dollars?"
   "To be honest, no," said Helm. "Did you say you know him last night?"
   "When I was young, I worked for his father."
   "I thought he was an orphan? Adopted by a shepherd? I had that from his foster-father at the villa. Ianos."
   "Old Ianos is his uncle, his mother's brother," chuckled Taxacaris. "The Germans shot his father at the end of the war. For stealing from them. His mother married a ferry captain about ten years later. She died on Santorini nine or ten years ago."
   "So he didn't really become an orphan until he was about fifty? That's a big difference. I suppose all that guff about finding the statues is hot air too?"
   "Philo found them because he knew where to look. His father had a workshop to make them for Nazi officers. They supplied the marble, six of us did the carving. I am the last of them and I am seventy-nine years old. When I die, his secret is safe."
   "Did all the others die naturally?"
   "Philo has his own code of honour. We helped to make his fortune – he does not want our blood on his hands."
   "Does his code extend to giving you a pension?"
   "He pays well for my work. Small statues to give to business friends without giving away our country's treasures."
   "Like the ones on the shelf inside?"
   "I live here in the summer, making statues in my workshop. I live in a nice apartment in Athens in winter. I enjoy the comfort of the city but I also enjoy the peace of the country."
   "I thought you were a shepherd at first. Not that I've seen many sheep around here."
   "My workshop is nearby," said Taxacaris.
   Helm followed him twenty yards to a wooden door in an outcrop of rock. There was a roomy, natural cave beyond the door. To Helm's surprise, the old man started a generator. Neon strips glowed. Taxacaris had a sturdy wooden bench and a rack of hammers and stone-working tools. The floor was white with marble dust. Blocks sawn into neat oblongs, a foot high and six inches square, were stacked against the end wall. The motorbike stood beside them.
   "I made much bigger statues in the old days," said Taxacaris. "Two metres tall and bigger."
   Helm lifted a completed statuette carefully. "I see this one's perfect. Doesn't it hurt you, having to knock bits off, like those in your house?"
   "They did not turn out well. My friend in the village buries them then sells them to tourists. I only sell work I am proud of to Philo."
   "What about the Roman remains he found in the cave with the statues?"
   Taxacaris shrugged. "The Nazis took what they liked in Italy. And Philo's family has always been good at mixing real and false. And good at buying the best advice. He put the money from the statues into stocks and shares, and then he made a lot more out of tankers before the Arabs raised the price of oil. By then, he had so much money he could not help making more. He also deals in works of art now.
   "He also buys back the original statues, the fakes. He calls it returning national treasures to our homeland. Taking away the black shadows from his past and from the Nazis who bought them. It is his code of honour. He could say he knows now the statues are fakes and he could buy them back at a fair price, but he does not want to admit he could be dishonest – even when he was a young man. And some of the Nazis give them back so that their past will not be known."
   "So he doesn't claim your small statues are antiquities?" To his surprise, Helm had found the initials '' and a date of completion carved into the base of the statuette.
   "Many are copies of well-known statues as they would be without lost limbs or no head. They are genuine modern works of art. Philo is very careful with his reputation in the art world. There must be no scandal."
   "So he's a self-made man, who keeps polishing his image?"
   "One of his sons is the Minister of Fisheries. If he is to become prime minister, there must be no scandal in his family."
   "Even after you had a prime minister who dragged his mistress to England when he had heart surgery?"
   "Not in the Makronotis family."
   "So how do you get away with telling me all this?"
   "Knowing is one thing," Taxacaris said wisely. "Proving is another."
   "I suppose so," Helm admitted. "I hope you don't think I'm being rude, but your English seems to be getting better by the hour. I noticed a crook by the door. Do you pretend to be a simple shepherd until you know someone?"
   "Maybe," grinned Taxacaris. "I also need practice. In winter, when I live in Athens, I have two neighbours. Both old, both English. We sit, we drink, we talk. The ladies are too old to do anything else. Here, I talk to my dog and he only speaks Greek."
   A helicopter zoomed past some distance away, flying low but travelling rapidly toward the mountain. Helm went to the door of the cave to watch it duck below a belt of hills.
   "They were out early this morning," said Taxacaris.
   "I wonder if they found anything?" Helm was thinking of the man whom he had shot and rolled into the bushes.
   "We should ask our friend Philo. The police will not say anything but he will know."
   "They're not likely to drop in on you? The police?"
   "I am difficult to find, either on the ground or from the air. You were very lucky to see a light last night."
   Helm noticed that the flat roof of the stone hut was covered with a layer of gravel and stones, some of them quite large, with grass and bits of bush sprouting to make the stone mouth of the chimney look like just another part of the artificial landscape. He realized that colliding with the hut could be the only way of finding it at night.
   Helm took the mugs back to the hut to wash them. He left Taxacaris eyeing a part-finished, foot-high goddess and selecting an appropriate chisel for working on her face. The old man kept his perishables in unglazed, earthenware pots, which he stood in bowls of water. Evaporation from the porous surface kept the contents cool and fresh. Helm had put a bottle of mineral water in a long, thin pot.
   He washed the mugs at the sink and rinsed his own with mineral water before filling it from the cooled bottle to take an edge off a powerful thirst. The only thing wrong with roughing it in foreign parts, he decided, was the endless precautions against picking up foreign bugs. He remembered hearing a presenter of a travel programme advising viewers to take Milton sterilizing fluid abroad to wash salad ingredients.
   Another traveller on an earlier programme had infected himself quite deliberately with a tape-worm to test a theory that they protect their host against digestive upsets. The traveller had eaten local foods and drunk the water in some remote parts of the world and his tape-worm had kept him feeling well, even if he had been forced to eat half as much again as normal to keep the parasite happy. It wasn't an idea that Robert Helm fancied trying.
   He refilled his mug with mineral water, mopped sweat from his face and armpits with a towel, and went out to the chairs in the shade of the roof's overhang. An impossibly bright sun in a cloudless sky had preserved one of his footprints in the site of an overnight puddle. Mud had become as hard as brick. If it turned to mudstone, Helm told himself, it would be something for a fossilologist to ponder over in about fifty million years.
   He had polished his shoes after chipping mud off them and brushing away a film of white salt. A routine task helped to put him back in touch with reality. He looked completely out of place with polished shoes and brand new jeans. He was a town person. His last sojourn in the country had been a caravan holiday with Steph and his parents at the age of thirteen.
   Since then, living rough had meant sleeping in an armchair after a party with unbrushed teeth and a mellow, alcoholic glow. He had always known that he could get by in more primitive circumstances, though. He could get by anywhere until the money ran out.
   Here, in polished shoes and jeans with beautifully sharp creases, he was like the irrepressible English gentleman, who insists on dressing for dinner when he is about to be eaten by cannibals.
   All he had to do now was think of some way to get home to his 75,000. He was more or less at the stage where Dr. Bennett's further tests had become unimportant. Properly invested, he had enough to allow him to retire from the working population at about fifty and live quite comfortably. Or, if the final news was bad, he could blow the lot on a very decent world cruise and jump off the blunt end on the day before the liner was due to dock again at its British port.
   He had the equivalent of about 400 on him. If the old man would give him a lift to Corinth on his motorbike, he would be able to get to Corfu on ferries for less than 20. Allowing 100 as a bribe to a Greek fisherman for a ride across to the heel of Italy, he would be able to put his emergency plan into operation – if he could sneak ashore at some quiet spot.
   He would travel to Rome by train, tell the British embassy that Robert Helm's passport and most of his luggage had been stolen, and continue home on the train via France with a temporary travel document. His name wouldn't appear on any passenger lists if he didn't fly. He would arrive home without ceremony. His first job, once safely out of sight, would have to be destroying his 'stolen' UK passport. When he was out of Greece, he would place a major gap in the chain between himself and the IRA suspect John Albert Scott.
   The helicopter returned, scattering his thoughts.
   The noise approached from behind the hut. Helm rushed inside, taking one of the chairs with him and feeling pleased with his forethought. An old man living alone wouldn't have two chairs in front of his hut. The helicopter passed overhead, then circled back. Helm stayed indoors, refusing to show any curiosity. The engine sound remained constant for a while, somewhere behind the fireplace wall. Then it began to circle again. The door of the hut opened while Helm was looking toward the bunks.
   "So you are alive?" said a voice with a Greek-American accent. "Lane said you'd be here. What happened to your face?"
   "Bushes." Helm recognized his old pal Alex, who had dropped his half of a dead donkey in Helm's path to 'rescue' him from gun-toting Tsai. The sight of his black, soup-strainer moustache was somewhat more welcome than seeing a police uniform, but there was very little in it.
   "We never got to Athens on Tuesday," Alex added.
   "Was that really just the day before yesterday?" said Helm. So much had happened to him that it felt like a week since their last meeting. "How did you find me?"
   "Local knowledge," grinned Alex. "Like why would an old coot with a beard want disposable razors? Or a pair of jeans a couple of sizes too big for him? And where did he get John Scott's traveller's cheques?"
   "Nothing happens to him, okay?" Helm said with more determination than he felt.
   "Yeah, the old guy's cool. Are you going to get packed?" Alex hooked his thumbs under blue braces. He was wearing a white linen jacket with a bulge under the left arm.
   Helm managed to shake the pistol out of his anorak pocket as he was folding it to stow it in his flight bag. He moved the pistol under a tuck in the blanket on his bunk. He had no further use for it and he had given it to his host anyway. Yani, the younger member of Lane's private army, was standing at the mouth of the cave with Taxacaris. The old man was holding two bottles of Courvoisier.
   "Something for his memory," said Alex. "Okay, stop here," he added a few yards from the cave. "I want to search you."
   Helm felt glad that he had disposed of the pistol. Being unarmed made him harmless. Alex patted him down and rooted through the flight bag. He found nothing to tell him that he was dealing with a man who had killed three times the previous day - twice by letting go of the handle of a briefcase that contained a bomb instead of an incendiary device, and a third time by intent.
   Helm felt that he had an edge for use in an emergency. At the same time, he hoped that there would be no need to take further emergency action. He had taken more than enough risks for one lifetime. He had money to spend and he wanted to live to spend it.
   Demosthenes Taxacaris wished him good luck with a conspiratorial smile. Helm winked and murmured that he had left him a present in his bunk. Alex and Yani were waving the helicopter down to a flat hill-top. A few minutes later, it deposited the passengers at a Jeep parked on a side road. The back of the Jeep was full of empty cartons, which were stapled together to form a hiding place.
   "You ride into the city in here," Alex told Helm. "Unless you want to talk to the cops?"
   "No, thanks." Helm made himself as comfortable as possible.
   "What happened to the millions bucks?" said Yani.
   "It got turned into confetti," said Helm.
   "All of it?" said Alex indignantly.
   "There was this bomb in the case," said Helm. "And you didn't find any when you searched me, did you?"
   "A million bucks up in smoke," said Yani regretfully.
   "Cheer up, it wasn't your million bucks," Helm said as the shell of cartons closed over him.
   The ride into Athens was dark, hot and full of collisions with sharp edges. The Jeep stopped eventually in a dirty alley. Helm dashed past a guard of dustbins and through a dark blue door. He found himself in the steamy confines of a busy kitchen. Alex led him to a set of double doors. Helm worked out that the Greek word on the right-hand door was pronounced 'exodos', which needed no translation.
   He found himself in the subdued red, orange and green lighting of a club, which seemed well-filled for ten past ten on a Thursday morning. A well-built woman wearing glitter and a boa constrictor was writhing on the small stage.
   Helm had to take a second look into a booth on the side wall, a few yards from the doors to the kitchen. Roger Gladwin had disguised himself by taking off his dark green cap. He was as bald as Helm had suspected. A horseshoe shape of grizzled hair was topped by a naked dome of the same colour as his tanned face, which proved that his cap wasn't an almost permanent fixture.
   "Claret?" said Helm, drawing his conclusion from the shape of the bottle in front of Gladwin. The dim red light made the label illegible.
   "You don't have to drink the local brew all the time." Gladwin filled the other glass. "Tell me about yesterday. From when you and Erlich drove off with a million bucks. Leave nothing out, no matter how trivial."
   Helm unclogged his throat with red wine, then he gave a fairly full account of his movements up to his arrival at Demosthenes Taxacaris' summer retreat. He held in reserve the secrets shared with the old man.
   "So there were eight of them?" said Gladwin. "And you saw faces?"
   "Only of the ones who are dead now. I saw the rest from a distance in terrible light. I wouldn't know the rest again if they were sitting next to you. Did the police manage to identify the ones in the taxi?"
   "No chance. They were barbequed. All they could say for sure is they'd had all their dental work done here. You say they were all Greeks? No Arabs?"
   "As I said, I didn't get much of a look at most of them, but they were all speaking Greek, not Arabic. And before you ask, no, I don't speak Arabic but I do know Greek when I hear it. And that's what I heard."
   "Okay, we'll get an artist to knock out some sketches of the two you wrote off with the taxi. How close did they look at the cash?"
   Helm frowned. "One of them looked at all of it. Why?"
   "Yes, but how close? Did he take notes out of the bundles to look at the watermark, for instance?"
   "No, there was so much of it. He just flicked through each of the bundles to make sure they were all hundred dollar bills and you'd not padded it out with newspaper. And I don't think they wanted to hang around. Why?"
   "Wouldn't it be nice for someone if high-class forgeries went up in smoke, leaving him with a million bucks that don't have to be accounted for?"
   "Someone like who?" frowned Helm.
   "Who gave you the cash?"
   "You mean Erlich switched it?"
   Gladwin shrugged. "Stranger things have happened at sea."
   "He'd pull that with Makronotis in personal charge of everything?"
   Gladwin shrugged again. "He didn't check the cash personally. He's the boss and that's a job for the help. And who can prove what was in the briefcase now? And anyway, the boss is too busy celebrating getting his girls back to worry about a little lost cash."
   "Did he fire the maid on the spot?"
   "Dead right! She cost him a million bucks."
   "But he was happy to get Tsai back too? There's not something going on there? Special agent and the boss?"
   "You don't know, do you?" chuckled Gladwin. "She's his daughter. He had an affair with her mother in Paris when he was on the way up. The mother died about eight years ago, and she never told the kid who her father is. The boss had to give her a job. She's on Kaiser's team."
   "Yes, she told me. You reckon she knows who her dad is?"
   "Probably. She's a smart cookie. Not to mention a bit of an embarrassment to the boss-man. Any bastard daughter has to be a source of scandal. But he's got his code of honour. and giving the kid a job shows his heart's in the right place if any bugger tries to use it against him."
   "More image-polishing. So what happens now?"
   "Now, we stash you somewhere. While the cops think you're the IRA." Gladwin grinned at Helm. Then he nodded toward the stage. "Fancy that, do you? Need some company?"
   The snake lady had finished her act. Helm had been watching a singer in a revealing dress because there was something odd about her. "So you reckon you could fix it?"
   "The manager's a mate of mine," said Gladwin.
   "Pity I'm not into female impersonators," Helm guessed.
   "In that case, it's back in the boxes," said Gladwin.
   Helm drained his glass and made his way back through the kitchen to the alley. There was no sign of Alex or Yani. He had a feeling that Gladwin had hoped to play an adult joke on him - such as getting him into a compromising position with a female impersonator before the truth dawned.
   Gladwin's reaction seemed to confirm his conclusion about the singer. Another round of shadow boxing was over but Helm had no idea of the outcome. As ever, he had been told a whole load of trivia but less than half of the real story.
   Gladwin arrived to take the wheel. The Jeep turned half a dozen corners. Helm escaped from his shell of cartons again. Gladwin used a key to open a battered door. He led the way along a corridor to a staircase. Helm followed him along a first-floor corridor of closed doors.
   He realized that he was in a cheap hotel, judging the price range from the frayed carpet and the grubby marks on the walls. He followed Gladwin up two more flights of the main staircase, circling round a lift in an ornamental cage. Gladwin unlocked a door at the end of the third-floor corridor and tossed the key onto the single bed.
   "Lock your door. Erlich will be in touch when he's ready. Tell him you were brought straight here and you don't know who did the bringing. Okay?"
   "More security games?" Helm said cynically.
   Gladwin looked into the small, connecting bathroom and the ancient wardrobe. "The password is Archimedes, got it?"
   "Yo! When will Erlich be here?"
   "When he's ready."
   "What about food?" Helm knew from past experience that the security advisors could take several days to become ready.
   "Call the desk, give the password, then your order. Don't go out. It's not safe. The cops have all got guns here. Okay?"
   Helm shrugged. "Okay."
   He locked the door behind Gladwin, then took a look at the room. It lay at a corner made by the alley and a main road. It had two windows, both with yellowing, net curtains. One opened onto the deck of a fire escape. If he opened both windows, he could create a cooling air flow.
   There were rust marks in the sink and the bath, but water flowed freely enough when he turned the taps and the hot water actually steamed. The bed felt comfortable enough, the linen was clean and there were no sharp, projecting springs in the armchair. The television worked, but there was nothing on. He also had a coffee maker with a box of coffee bags and two litres of still mineral water.
   There was even some stationery and a ballpoint on a small table. Helm wrestled with the name, then he realized that 'mu' and 'eta' paired at the beginning of a word are pronounced 'b'. He was in the Hotel Batiris.
   Even if the hotel looked as if it let rooms by the hour to familiar women and anonymous men, parts of it were a comfortable hide-out. Helm wondered if the Athens police had the hotel on a list of dodgy dives, and whether they had searched it already for fugitive IRA terrorists. He could believe that they had been warned off by the all-powerful Makronotis organization.
   Testing the system, he lifted the telephone receiver and waited for the receptionist to respond. He gave the password and showed off his Greek by asking for a sticky bun. Then he made himself a cup of coffee.
   A man in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, fag drooping from the corner of his mouth, delivered his cellophane-wrapped bun. Helm found that he had no Greek change but the waiter seemed happy enough with a British 1 coin.
   He had to wait half an hour for further news on the BBC World Service, courtesy of the wall radio. There was nothing about Arab terrorists in Greece or their connection with Irish terrorists. No news was frustrating. He needed someone around like old Taxacaris, who would know where to find a local radio station on the dial, and who could translate what it had to say for the benefit of a foreigner.
   Helm left the radio on. He had nothing else for amusement. He ordered a hamburger for lunch, and received an unexpected side order of french fries. He was drinking his third cup of coffee of the afternoon, and listening to the same news for the umpteenth time, when someone knocked on his door.
    There were three light taps, then a male voice said, "Archimedes, open up."
   Erlich had disguised himself with a Mets baseball cap and mirror sunglasses. He went over to the front window and looked out at the traffic on the main road for a couple of minutes, ignoring Helm. Then he dropped into the armchair, looking from Helm's cup to the coffee-maker. Helm switched off the radio and started another coffee bag brewing. Erlich began to go through most of Gladwin's questions, placing greater emphasis on the lost money and just how sure Helm could be of identifying the kidnappers.
   "Do I get out of here now?" Helm said into a lull in the questioning.
   "You're too hot," said Erlich. "We have to wait for things to stop jumping before we can do anything."
   "Any chance of something to read? In English? And some Greek cash for tips and things?"
   "I'll see what I can do." Erlich parted with coins and notes with the casual unconcern of someone handing out the firm's money - generosity that could be exaggerated when he claimed his expenses. "In the meantime, stay put. And the guy at the reception speaks good enough English. He reckons your accent is weird when you speak Greek."
   Erlich drained his coffee cup. He waited to hear Helm lock the door before walking to the stairs. Helm switched the radio on again. A quarter of an hour later, someone tapped on his door. Helm assumed that his reading material had arrived. He was desperate for something to fill his empty hours. As he unlocked the door, he tried to recall if he had heard the password. He told himself that he had.
   The man on the threshold was holding a long knife, not books or newspapers. Steel flashed brightly when he advanced. He was wearing a happy smile on his tanned, chubby face. He looked like a contented holidaymaker or someone who was about to earn a big bonus.
   Robert Helm realized that he was in a lot of trouble again.

Previous ChapterF&F BOOKSNext Chapter

TITLE PAGE010203040506070809101112131415161718192021
NOVELS PAGECreated for Romiley Literary Circle by HTSP Web Division, 10/12 SK6 4EG, Romiley, GB.
This Edition published in 2006 by Farrago & Farrago. © 1989, Philip Turner.