HELM BECAME SURPLUS to requirements after the introduction. Gräfin von Arlberg seemed sorry to see him go but Erlich whisked him away using an irresistible grip on his arm. He let Helm load up a plate at the buffet then he took him to an interior room for a briefing. They were on the same level as the terrace and Ianos Makronotis' torture cell.
This room had a larger window than the room in which Helm and Tsai had lunched on Tuesday. There was a thick carpet and several landscape paintings on walls papered with an embossed pattern on cool orange. Erlich sat down within easy reach of one of the four computer stations.
"Ever been to Austria?" Erlich asked as he switched on a monitor.
Helm nodded. "Once. Skiing. Ten years ago. I sprained my ankle on the last day. In the bar."
"This is western Austria." Erlich aimed a blunt forefinger at the screen. "Switzerland on the right, West Germany at the top. The blue is the Bodensee, what you would call Lake Constance. Gräfin von Arlberg is separated from her husband. She lives in Bregweil, at the eastern limit of the lake."
"Where does himself live?" Helm attempted a southern Irish accent.
Erlich frowned at him, then aimed his finger again. "At Schloß Arlberg, eight kilometres south-west of Au."
The castle stood on its own mountain at a height of 2,286 metres. Helm realized with surprise that Count von Arlberg lived almost a mile and a half above sea level, and wondered if he provided bottled oxygen in the guest rooms. His castle sounded a highly unsuitable place for someone with tired blood to visit.
"The Gräfin has some jewellery," said Erlich. "The ownership is in dispute but she has possession. Exact duplicates have been made. Your job is to collect them and then act as a decoy."
"Just like that?" said Helm.
"You fly to Zürich in the morning. Final briefing there. You recovered your driving license?"
"I got it on the way here. Has everyone been told I'm not in the IRA? As thoroughly as they were told I was?"
"The matter received my personal attention."
"Oh, well, that's all right, then," Helm remarked with straight-faced sarcasm. "What are the chances of collecting my fee? Which we haven't even discussed yet. Any exploding jewel boxes, and like that?"
"Five hundred pounds. Plus expenses. There is no danger."
"Do I get that in writing? A contract?" Helm's tone said that he wouldn't normally get out of bed for such a miserable sum.
"Pack for an overnight stay. But you should be back by Monday evening. Study your route."
A plotter drew him a four-colour map of the operational area. Erlich left Helm to finish his food and study an area bounded by Stuttgart, Augsburg, St. Moritz and Zürich. He made no mention of a lesson in basic German. Helm knew some useful bits and pieces, such as ja, nein, guten Morgen, auf Wiedersehen and his numbers up to one hundred.
He also knew some highly inappropriate phrases, such as Achtung, Schpitfeur!, Hände hoch! and Sieg heil! A job paying a mere five hundred quid didn't merit the effort of further study. He was having quite enough trouble with Greek.
Makronotis and his party had gone by the time Helm took his empty plate and glass out onto the terrace. Klara was sitting at one of the tables with a cup of coffee, watching a ferry outbound for Gavrion and points south. She knew all about Helm's job the next day. She also spoke fluent German.
"I can't think why they don't send you if there's no danger," Helm told her, pouring himself a cup of coffee. "You sound a lot better qualified for it than me."
Klara smiled. "Greek chauvinism. The men do one sort of work, women do another."
"What about coming with me? Wouldn't a couple driving around seeing the sights look a lot less suspicious than a lone male sneaking around?"
"I'm not very good in an emergency, John. We were in a bus once and a car hit us. Rick, my ex-husband, he told me I took one look at a guy with some blood on his shirt and I fainted dead away. Another time, in college, a kitchen knife slipped. See?" Helm inspected a half-inch, white scar on tanned flesh below Klara's blood-red, left thumbnail. "My room-mate said I must have fainted before I even tried to stop the bleeding. She heard me hit the floor. She reckons I might have bled to death if I'd been alone. Of course, she was exaggerating, but I guess I just can't take the sight of blood."
Helm tried to remember how he had felt after the Fiat Uno had hit the dead donkey and he had seen Tsai's T-shirt soaked by his own nose bleed. He had been shaken and sore, but more concerned by the loss of his much-needed blood than by the sight of it. He had not thought about throwing up until weak-stomached Yani had given him a lead. Even then, he had considered vomiting only as a means of inconveniencing Alex and Yani by doing it in their Range Rover.
"What's all this about blood anyway?" he demanded. "I'm doing a safe job. I'm only getting paid peanuts, so it must be safe. Or do you know something I don't?"
"I'm sure you've been briefed properly," said Klara.
"What if I break a saucer and threaten to slash my wrists if you don't tell me everything you know?"
"Don't, John," shuddered Klara.
"Sorry." Helm realized that she really did have a very real horror of blood in the wrong place. "Can you tell me anything about Count Arlberg?" He put the saucer back on the table and unfolded his map.
Klara leaned closer and stabbed the map with a blood-red fingernail. "He runs the Gletscher Klinik at Meersdorf. Here, on this tongue of land at the north end of Lake Constance. Cosmetic surgery, drying out drunks and drug rehabilitation for the rich and famous. Very discreetly. It's a hundred and forty kilometres straight down the Autobahn from Stuttgart airport, or sixty from Zürich on ordinary roads, plus a frontier crossing. It's easy to get to but your destination isn't obvious when you leave the airport. There are stories they also have facilities for cryonic storage. You know, freezing bodies after death until a cure can be found for what killed the person."
"Sounds a bit Dr. Frankenstein," laughed Helm.
"Of course, no one knows for sure if they do it. Outside the Count's magic circle. But the rumours are very strong. And if you've got the money, you do what you want."
"How much has the Countess got? Of her own?" Helm knew that having £100,000 wasn't enough to let him do what he wanted - spend it.
"About ten million. Dollars, that is. It was money marrying money. But you can't buy youth, even with ten million bucks."
"Yes, she looks quite good from a distance," nodded Helm. "But you can see the wrinkles when you get close."
"That's why the Count has a small harem now."
"How many millions has he got?"
"Twenty or thirty. Plus his castle. It would cost at least a hundred million to build it today."
"Not quite in the Makronotis super-league, then? What's the boss getting out of lending me to the Countess?"
"They had an affair about twenty years ago and they stayed friends. And Helena, one of her daughters, is supposed to be his. And he plain just can't abide Max von Arlberg."
"So what are his minions likely to do to a decoy duck?"
"Maybe knock you about a bit if they catch you. But you're not dumb enough to let them get near you, are you, John?"
"I find your faith in me most touching," laughed Helm. "And I'm not being paid enough to let anyone duff me up."
Lunch out of the way, Klara took him up the coast to Rafina for a look at the port town. They watched a human tide swarm onto and off a ferry, inspected the ethnic ornaments and plaster statuettes in the tourist shops and had coffee and sticky-sweet cakes at a sea-front café.
Back at the villa, Helm ran into Gladwin while Klara was telling the resident mechanic about a small problem with the runabout's clutch. They met in the hall. Gladwin had just emerged from Phileros Makronotis' study.
"Why's the boss playing musical jewels for an old mistress?" Helm asked.
"She's given him the inside track on some deals her old man cooked up," grinned Gladwin. "You know about his harem?"
"It's been mentioned."
"It was her way of getting back at him for preferring his women younger and better looking."
"So it's favour for favour? Not just doing an old flame a good turn for friendship's sake? That makes more sense."
"Talking about friends, I shouldn't get your hopes up about Amercott. She bats for the other team. Stone ginger."
"You're kidding!" gasped Helm.
"Well, she's from New York. They're all queer there. Same with your Chinese bird. They're an odd lot out East. She quite fancies Amercott."
"Is there any chance of ditching John Scott now?" Helm switched to less mind-blowing ground. "Erlich says everyone's been told about the lost licence but I have this vision of some idiot of a village bobby grabbing me and thinking he's got Carlos the Jackal. Or even worse, taking a shot at me. The cops are armed to the bloody teeth over here."
"Stay with Scott, it's safer," said Gladwin. "Suppose the kidnappers start checking you out in England? And go looking for your family to put pressure on you? If they know you as John Scott, they're going to come up empty."
"I thought we'd established the kidnappers are just a bunch of local crooks, not international terrorists?"
"If they were just a bunch of local crooks, do you think they'd have been daft enough to kidnap a grandkid belonging to Phileros Makronotis?"
"You think someone put them up to it? Organized them?"
"If you saw a sealed cardboard box, could you be sure what's in it without looking?"
"If it was under a café table in Athens, I wouldn't look in case it blew my bloody head off," Helm said with feeling.
"Not even if someone offered you twenty-five grand?" scoffed Gladwin.
"I don't need another twenty-five grand. What I need is a chance to spend the hundred grand I've already got."
"In a rush to buy your Porsche?"
"I'd rather have a Merc. They've got class. All a Porsche's got is a funny shape and a huge price tag."
"You should have enough for a dozen Mercs by the time you finish your contract, you lucky sod." Gladwin disappeared into another of the ground-floor rooms indicating that the conversation was at an end.
"But I haven't got a bloody contract," Helm told the closed door.
He plodded up to his bedroom and dropped into an armchair. Another possibility had occurred to him Makronotis thought that he had done Helm a favour by letting him go home for the operation. That meant that Helm owed him the favour of playing decoy with dummy jewels. The equation was unreasonable, but in the real world, what goes on is determined by the man with the money.
John Scott had become a commodity. Feed money into his building society account and watch him rush smiling into the jaws of death. Phileros Makronotis was going to keep on using him until he had taken his revenge on the kidnappers or until Scott reached his expiry date. All that the modern Hercules could do was wonder how many of his twelve labours he would survive.
Taking him to the villa after someone had gone to the trouble of moving his luggage to the Hotel Renga had to be a security decision. Had he escaped from the hotel, he could have disappeared into a city full of tourists. That was pretty impossible stuck in an isolated, guarded spot on the coast unless he tried diving into the sea from the terrace and swimming home. It was ironic, Helm told himself, how he had got himself into this mess by over-reacting to Dr. Bennett's calm reassurance.
There had been nothing to worry about in the case of the first waxy lump. Now, it made no difference whether the second was harmless or the most malignant piece of tissue in the whole history of the universe. There were much more immediate dangers to face as a member of Phileros Makronotis' Special Assignments Detail, his Kamikaze squad. None of the dangers would shake him more than Gladwin's revelation about Klara and Tsai. That sort of thing never happened to James Bond and other secret agents.
Dieter Erlich drove Helm to Athens airport on Monday morning, and escorted him to the final check-point at the boarding gallery, as if making sure that Helm had no opportunity to disappear. The flight lasted two hours and twenty minutes. Helm ate a second breakfast, without an iron capsule this time, and he read about a third of one of his thick paperbacks.
Zürich was fifteen degrees cooler than Athens. It felt positively chilly, despite the sun. After he had converted the temperature into more meaningful Fahrenheit, Helm realized that he had gone from the low nineties to the mid-sixties. He was wearing a lightweight suit, which had arrived at the villa during Sunday evening, a green-striped shirt to match part of the subdued check, and one of his unicorn cravats. He was dressed too warmly for Greece but too scantily for Switzerland.
Roger Gladwin had warned him to keep his mind on the job and himself to himself while he was away. The AIDS rate in Switzerland is three times the British rate due to the Swiss hobby in former times of taking sexual safaris in Africa. Helm doubted whether he would have time to catch another fatal disease during a one-day, five-hundred-quid job.
A man with a hawk-like profile and a mohair suit met him at the airport. Having confirmed that he had found Herr Scott, the man gave his name as Clerment. Helm took charge of the keys of a modest BMW with silver stripes along its dark blue flanks and an extra tax disc on the windscreen to entitle it to use the Swiss motorways. He also memorized a local telephone number, which he was to use the next morning if he still had the parcel.
Helm drove south from the airport and ignored Clerment's instructions when he tried to steer him onto the E60 at the edge of Zürich. Helm had $1,000 in traveller's cheques and a healthy wad of Swiss francs in his inside pocket. He wanted to buy a pullover so that he could do his jet-setting in more comfort. Reluctantly, Clerment gave him directions to the department stores. Helm realized that his passenger had been less than frank about his identity when he spotted the name Clerment on the first of a row of stores.
Clerment did the talking, Helm did the paying. He spent 1,880 francs, three-quarters of his allocation of Swiss currency, on a white cashmere pullover, and enjoyed every second of the experience. There were other garments priced up to 3,000 francs but he decided that anything over a thousand pounds for a pullover had to be a rip-off.
He left the store feeling very swellegant. This was real jet-setting along the lines of his original concept. If Phileros Makronotis intended to keep John Scott on the payroll until his luck ran out, then he would have to feed one of the best-dressed corpses in Europe to the fish when the time came.
Clerment decided to remain in Zürich, as if worried about getting into some real trouble if his charge couldn't obey orders. Helm set off alone in his striped BMW. His instructions, when he eventually reached the motorway, were to head east until he came to the St. Margrethen interchange, then take the lakeside road round Lake Constance, passing through Bregweil, where the Countess lived. His time was his own for about three hours then. He decided to visit Friedrichshafen.
At the borders with Austria and West Germany, he told the officials that he was just passing through on an excursion to see the home-base of the pre-war transatlantic Zeppelins. He arrived slightly ahead of schedule and found that he had an hour for lunch. When he flashed his wad of Swiss francs, the proprietor of a lakeside café let him use his personal telephone for a private call to England.
Edward Stowe, the junior partner of Lancer and Stowe, sounded as if he had given Helm up for lost. Helm explained that one set of tests had provided a negative result, so his anaemia remained as big a mystery as ever, and he was still waiting to hear about the second lumpectomy. Stowe wished him well and reminded him that he still had a week left of his month's leave.
Helm was disappointed to find that the Zeppelin works was long gone, bombed flat in World War Two. There was a brand new Zeppelin museum in Neu-Isenburg, but it lay a convenient fifteen kilometres from Frankfurt-am-Main and a massive 270 kilometres out of reach of his current position. He had to settle for buying an old boy in the café a couple of litres of beer to lubricate his throat while he delivered an account of Friedrichshafen's glory days in fairly fluent English.
Helm became so engrossed in the story that he had to make up a quarter of an hour on the return trip to the Austrian border. A slight detour allowed him to return to Austria on the motorway. He had just enough time in West Germany to get the BMW up to 180 kph on the clock.
He told the officials at the border that he was just passing through Austria on his way for a look at the postal museum in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein. He parted with some of his small stock of schillings to pay the motorway toll. His notes on the dashboard reminded him that the advisory 130 kph speed limit on German motorways becomes compulsory in Austria.
Toward the junction of the newer section with the older part of the E60, a couple of kilometres from Bregweil, a red Porsche drew alongside him. The driver had to reach up to post a shoebox-size parcel through Helm's open passenger window. Helm had to make a determined effort to keep a straight course during the manoeuvre. Part of him kept asking what would happen if the parcel contained a bomb instead of fake jewellery.
Helm left the parcel on the seat and stood by to be intercepted. He was still waiting when he reached the capital of one of Europe's oddities. Vaduz looked like just another tiny but picturesque Swiss back-water that was full of dodgy businesses and even dodgier money. His tourist information told him that the Principality is slightly smaller than Washington, D.C. The road enters from Austria between two small mountain ranges and follows the Rhine valley down the western side of the country. The rest is mountains. Swiss francs, of which Helm had a severely reduced pocketful, are the national currency. The official language is German but the locals can use a national dialect to discuss foreigners within earshot, like the Welsh.
Helm found a car park. His parcel weighed about four pounds. Nothing rattled when he shook it. He tucked it under his arm and took it for a look at the State Art Collection, which includes 800 modern works shut away in three massive steel cabinets for lack of display space, he learned from his guide book. In the adjacent Postal Museum, he was unable to resist a poster of all Liechtenstein's stamps from the earliest issues of 1912 to date.
He spent another 200 francs on presentation packs of stamps, partly for their curiosity and investment values, and mainly for the job of lashing out expenses money on something useless. He had collected stamps for a while in his teens but the hobby had died a natural death at about the time he had begun under-age drinking.
Helm still had his parcel at five o'clock. Erlich had promised that someone on the other side would have relieved him of it by then. Helm had endured an agony of suspense, not knowing how he would be mugged. The possibilities had come down to either a violent assault from the rear, probably involving being beaten unconscious, or just an unobtrusive approach by some smooth bastard with a polite smile and a gun issued by Count von Arlberg's security department.
Using his initiative, Helm called it a day and booked a room at the Hotel Maksimillian, attracted by the curious spelling. He wrote 'Roger Lane, Esq." on the parcel and asked the receptionist to put it in the safe until further notice. He handed over a 20-franc note with the parcel to ensure prompt attention.
His room looked rather decadent with its red, flock wallpaper and a large bed with a polished brass frame. It looked like something left over from the grand old days of the Orient Express and Dornford Yates adventure novels. Helm wondered whether the receptionist had thought it appropriate for a rich, romantic Irishman.
Showered and shaved again, with his suit freshly pressed, he went out into a cooling evening in search of a restaurant that could handle English. He was expecting new orders in due course. Finding him to pass them on would be a test of Dieter Erlich's qualifications as a bloodhound.
Helm's choice of Viener Schnitzel with french fries and green beans was unadventurous but he knew what to expect and he was pleased with the chef's efforts. He finished the meal with a piece of chocolate cake with cream and coffee with cognac. He was counting notes onto the saucer with his bill, refusing the convert the total to sterling, when a young woman sat down at his table.
Her elegant cocktail dress was shiny black. She wore a single strand of pearls and earrings that looked like red plastic buttons. Her honey-blonde hair was piled up on top of her head and secured with a silver comb. Her natural expression was rather remote but she became much more attractive when she aimed a pleasant smile at Helm.
Helm found the lady's black, fold-over evening bag of particular interest when she showed him the neat, self-loading pistol in it. It was a perfect attention-grabber.
"I'd have thought a girl with your looks wouldn't have to be quite so persuasive," Helm remarked.
"We will walk to the door quite naturally, Herr Scott," his companion told him in a quiet voice with a German accent.
"What if I faint, right now?" mocked Helm.
"My friend will help you out of the restaurant."
Helm followed the direction of a significant glance. A chunky man in a dinner jacket lifted a hand in greeting from the doorway.
"There are two others," added the elegant young woman. "But they are in reserve. Where is your car?"
"Oh, it's still in the car park," Helm realized. "Near the art gallery."
Helm searched his pockets then handed it over.
"Thank you, sir." The English-speaking waiter picked up the saucer with an inquiring look at the lady.
"Come on, darling, we shall be late." The woman took Helm's arm in a possessive grip and stirred him to the door. "We shall look at your car," she murmured through a contented smile.
The chunky man tagged on behind when they left the restaurant. The blonde on Helm's arm was about Tsai's age, mid-twenties, a couple of inches shorter than Klara Amercott and her perfume had to have coat a good $500 per ounce more than Klara's. In other circumstances, Helm would have been eager to get to know her. Gladwin's awful warning lingered, but he was now in Liechtenstein, not Switzerland.
The lady had the natural grace that comes from good breeding and an expensive education She knew how to make the most of her assets and hide any defects. She was a jet-setter, the class that newly rich Robert Helm burned to join before the Makronotis organization wrote him off.
Inside the car park, the chunky man took his hand out of his right-hand jacket pocket long enough to show Helm a man-size, self-loading pistol. His was as big as a Beretta model 92. The blonde took Helm's keys, drew on driving gloves and searched the BMW from engine compartment to boot.
"All right, where is the parcel?" she said patiently. "We know you did not deliver it."
"In the post." Helm had had plenty of time to think up a plausible lie as a delaying tactic. "In the event of a hitch, my final order was to post it. It had an address label and they gave me the right stamps to stick on it."
"Why did you not tell me before?"
"I didn't think you'd believe me until you'd searched the car," Helm said innocently.
"Okay." The blonde looked at her companion, then waved him to the back seat. "Now, we go for a drive."
Helm took the wheel, well aware of the guns behind and beside him. The blonde's directions took him onto the road to the north. Helm wondered if she was taking him to see Schloß Arlberg, home of the count of the same name. There would be a slight problem when they reached the Austrian border. He had left his passport at the hotel. Making life easy for kidnappers wasn't one of his priorities, however.
The sun had just set behind the Swiss mountains on his left, on the other side of the Rhine. A rosy glow was fading from the highest peaks. It was the sort of view beloved by directors of tourism. When they drove out of Schaan, on a wider trunk road, the mountains were black and sinister. Only Helm knew that they were five kilometres from an interesting border incident. The other two seemed relaxed and confident, on top of their job and doing it well.
Helm began to think about what could happen at the frontier. If the Makronotis organization could boss around the Athens police, how much power did an Austrian count worth one hundred and thirty million dollars hold? One way of complicating matters would be to skid at the checkpoint and shunt the barrier. The Austrian border guards had submachine guns with a long magazine projecting from the handle. They looked more than a match for a pair of amateurs with hand-guns.
A violent bump made the wheel jerk in his hands. Helm's teeth slammed together, missing his tongue by a minute fraction of an inch. The car leapt again before he realized that someone was shunting him from the rear. Then there was another car alongside, smashing him over to the side of the road.
Helm stopped on the hard shoulder. A red-headed man in the car beside him was pointing a submachine gun at his window. The blonde and her satellite got out. A short, dark man relieved them of their guns then slid in beside Helm. He made a U-turn gesture with his left forefinger. Helm had seen enough of them on TV and in films to know what an Israeli Uzi looks like. His new passenger was holding that breed of submachine gun in his right hand, aiming it across the car.
A three-vehicle convoy turned onto the opposite carriageway, leaving the blonde and her companion stranded. Helm's driving mirror showed him a woman with dark hair at the wheel of the third car. He listened for sounds of bodywork scraping on a tyre, then he concluded that any damage to the BMW caused by this latest gang of ambushers was cosmetic and slight.
"Nice evening for it," he remarked to his passenger.
"Shut up and drive," said the other. He had an American accent.
Helm realized that he had not been rescued. He had been kidnapped at gunpoint for the second time in half an hour, and the blonde in the slinky black dress had been lying about her reserves. He was becoming a proper sucker for silly stories. He was also becoming quite used to having guns pointed at him.
It was an unsettling experience, but there was no need to panic if he told himself that the gun was there to ensure good behaviour. He was being very co-operative and if the kidnappers used their weapon on him, he would be in no condition to do whatever it was that they wanted him to do.
His passenger hadn't fastened the top three buttons of his lemon shirt. Among the black curls was a silver Star of David. The man looked more Jewish than Greek. Another nation had entered the kidnapping game.
Helm couldn't understand why he had been kidnapped by a bunch of Israeli gunmen. He had read a lot of bad things about the Israeli secret service, such as their ruthless application of torture and murder. Somehow, he had got himself involved in something a whole lot more serious than a five-hundred-quid decoy job.