AS HE REACHED THE FOURTH shirt button, Helm caught a flash of motion with the corner of his eye. A small object slammed against Avvi's chest. He toppled backward. His Uzi roared, shredding lumps out of the suspended ceiling, exploding a light fitting. His submachine gun dropped from his hand, bounced on the desk and crashed onto Helm's foot.
"Come on, darling," said a familiar voice.
Helm snatched up the Uzi and rushed to the door. He caught a whiff of Eva von Arlberg's expensive perfume through burnt gunpowder as he burst out into the corridor. She reached up to drop a chain around his neck. A matchbox-size metal object bounced on his chest.
"Keep that on," Eva warned. "It tells our security system who is a friend. This way."
She seized Helm's hand and ran along the corridor to the nearer end. She tapped out a security code and dragged him through an emergency exit. As they ran away from the office annex, Eva shouted into her personal radio.
"What's that about?" panted Helm.
"I told the guards of at least one armed man in the offices. They may not approach within twenty metres. They must surround him and wait for the police."
The ground shivered under their feet, releasing a noise like buried thunder. Eva turned right to follow a hedge. A red fireball turned night to doomsday.
Eva dragged Helm through a gap in the hedge and into its shelter as Helm felt his hair crinkle in the wave of intense heat. Thunder mixed with sharper, crashing sounds bellowed nearby. Floodlights beyond another hedge restored daylight conditions.
Helm's throat had dried out. His breath rasped in and out. His depleted blood pounded round his system, working overtime to supply a ruthless demand for more and more oxygen. He could hear Eva gasping too, but she kept running strongly, maintaining a firm grip on his hand. They turned a corner, and another. Then they were off grass and running across a flagged terrace. Eva tapped out a security code and dragged him through a plate-glass door.
They padded up a darkened staircase in the clinic's main building. Helm remembered that he hadn't wiped his feet and felt guilty about leaving dirty footprints on the carpet. Eva led him to a room on the second floor. She unlocked the door with trembling hands. She hauled him inside by his arm. Helm tripped after a few steps and fell onto something soft.
The Uzi bounced out of his hand. Eva landed beside him and rolled onto him. All they could do was lie in each other's arms, trying to get their breath back.
His throat felt sand-blasted, clogged and painful. Helm rolled Eva off himself and struggled to his feet.
"No lights," croaked Eva. "No one knows we are here."
There was enough light coming through the broad window for Helm to find the bathroom. He drank a full glass of cold water, splashed more water onto his face to dilute the sweat, dried himself with a handy towel and drank another full glass of water. Then he wondered if German water is safe for an Englishman to drink.
He took another glass of water and the other towel to Eva. She was lying on a squashy, circular object about seven feet in diameter. She drained the glass in three gulps and buried his face in the towel. Helm crossed to the window. He could see lights along the terrace below but no sign of activity.
"The explosion was on the other side," said Eva. "It was fantastic."
"What did you shoot that sod Avvi with?" said Helm.
"More water, darling."
Helm made another trip to the bathroom then sprawled on the circular couch. He was feeling exhausted.
"A stun gun," said Eva when she had drained the glass. "A little sandbag in a compressed air gun. It hits hard enough to knock someone out but leaves no mark."
"The computer!" Helm realized what had been different about the cryostore. "You moved it out."
"Darling, the thing is worth a quarter of a million dollars," chuckled Eva. "What did you think of the décor?"
"Absolutely brilliant! You must have spent ages on it. Is that the end of your collection of Nazibilia?"
"No, it was all film props."
"Aren't you worried some of it will be found?"
"Everything was treated with incendiary chemicals. They will have gone up in smoke by now. And there was a liquid oxygen tank in the cryostore. It was convenient to keep it there, with all the refrigeration equipment."
"That must have been the fireball."
"The cryostore will be just a hole in the ground now. Listen, you can hear the sirens of the fire brigade. Saying Feu'r-Wehr, Feu'r-Wehr."
Helm pressed the back-light of his watch. The time was 00:51. Sigismund Morgenstern had started his 45-minute timers at about half-past midnight. Helm concluded that the old Jew had been given a bigger and better bang sooner than expected.
Eva unzipped a long pocket on the thigh of her overall. She took out a black mop-head wig and a pair of black-rimmed glasses, which had broken at the bridge. She took a gun with a fat barrel out of the other thigh pocket.
"That was you with the black hair and the specs in the lift?" Helm realized. "They might have shot you."
"Sieg heil, darling," laughed Eva as she wriggled out of her overall. She was wearing the SS uniform under it. "Don't you find danger stimulating?"
When she closed her mouth on his and guided his fingers to a zip, Helm realized what she meant about stimulating. He had read in paperbacks about women who are turned on by violence and danger. He had never expected to meet one or to be seduced by the daughter of an Austrian count. Life was too short to pass the opportunity by and he had fancied Eva von Arlberg from the start. Fortunately for someone with tired blood, she was prepared to make all of the running.
Eva was asleep under a dark blue silk sheet when Helm woke in pre-dawn twilight for about the fifth time. He was having one of his nights of broken sleep. The time was five-thirty. Helm noticed the Uzi lying under a chair. He managed to remove the magazine and eject the round from the chamber. Then he put the weapon in the top drawer of an antique chest, out of sight.
He took his money belt and his anorak into the bathroom and wallowed in a hot bath for a quarter of an hour. He wasn't going to take the chance of an acquisitive von Arlberg parting him from his money and his passports. His black, designer stubble looked scruffy rather than elegant but there was no razor in sight.
He found a knee-length, silk dressing gown blue with a red dragon on the back in one of the cupboards. Leaving the room's door open, he explored the corridor until he found a communal sitting room on the other side. Two broad windows were cracked from top to bottom. Hedges and trees got in the way but he could see part of the angular wreckage of the office block and a large, dark scar in the grass beyond. Fire engines and police cars were parked all over the place.
"Admiring your work?" said Eva with a yawn as she linked arms with him. She was wearing her blue overall and pink slippers. Her hair was a sleepy tangle.
"It's going to cost your old man a fortune for the windows."
"The insurance company will pay."
"How am I fixed for a lift to Zürich? My car and my luggage are there. I haven't even got a pair of clean socks."
"We can supply you. You will look sweet in swastika shorts and socks."
"Yes," laughed Eva, "I am. Come on."
"So you don't get an urge to invade Poland when there's a full Moon?"
"I can think of dozens of less depressing countries to invade," scoffed Eva.
Helm made a list of his sizes. Eva made a telephone call from their room, then disappeared into the bathroom. Helm sat in a large armchair, facing the window. The door opened and closed behind him a few minutes later. The person who had made the delivery didn't need to know who was in the room. There was a rechargeable electric razor with his clothing. Eva had though of everything.
Eva was delighted when Helm remembered the Uzi and presented it to her. Her father had refused to let her have a submachine gun. Acquiring one secretly without having to pay for it was a big thrill. Winning the weapon in battle made it an even more valuable collector's item.
Just before six o'clock, Eva turned out of the clinic's grounds and pointed the mid-range Audi toward Konstanz. She was wearing jeans with creases and a rather prim top of blue denim. The journey to Zürich took three-quarters of an hour at Eva's idea of a reasonable speed.
Helm gritted his teeth and paid a small fortune in parking fees to recover his BMW and his luggage. Eva led him to a select hotel, where they could enjoy free parking during a second, more substantial breakfast.
"Do you want to drive us to see Daddy?" Eva asked when they were waiting to be served with eggs and bacon.
"I don't think I want to see Daddy again," said Helm. "I think it's worth the ten grand of mine he's got in his safe not to get involved in another of his free jobs. The last one would have got me bloody well killed if you hadn't been on the ball."
"You'd walk away from ten grand, Johnny?"
"Yes, if it's likely to cost me Morgenstern's other ten grand to visit Castle Arlberg. It only costs three or four pounds to visit an English castle."
"And whatever else you have in your money belt?"
"You remember that?"
"Last night is very vivid in my memory," chuckled Eva.
Helm gave her a conspiratorial smile. He knew that he had enjoyed a jet-setter's one-night stand with the daughter of an Austrian count which had to be an unrepeatable offer. He had to be mature about the whole business. He had no claim on Eva as a consequence. She was destined to be just a scary and delightful memory for his old age if he had one. Living up to John Scott's image had a few compensations.
"So where are you going?" prompted Eva, pouring more coffee. The food arrived, as if on cue.
"Back to Athens, I guess." Helm dripped HP sauce onto his fried egg with a smile of appreciation for the gesture the right sauce with the English breakfast. "To find out who's been sacked for the cock-up that gave me your mother's jewels instead of Tsai. I bet your mother's chewing the carpet. How do you get on with her?"
"We meet at parties sometimes. She tells me off for being a bad girl and getting my name in newspapers. Why am I not married like Astrid? Or a nice girl like dear little Helena? So I tell her, if I could have as many affairs as they say, I would be a wreck! I will not blame her for wanting to divorce Daddy. He is an old miser. But I am not nagged at home. Would you do a job for me? If you are going to Athens?"
Helm shrugged. "Why not? Is it something likely to get me killed?"
"You just have to sell some letters for me. At a shop in Molivi Street in the Monastiraki area, near the Hill of Ares. The man buys and sells Nazibilia."
"In the bazaar of Athens? How much do I ask for them? Are we talking hundreds of dollars?"
"Eight thousand dollars. Not one cent less."
"Phew, gov! Okay. Where are they?"
"I have to collect them from home."
"How long will that take?"
"Two and a half hours. You could put your feet up in my family's suite here and read your books."
"Do I get any commission on the deal?"
"No, darling, you do it for love."
"I should have seen that coming," grinned Helm. "From a von Arlberg. You couldn't crack your old man's safe while you're there? And rescue my ten grand? You can tell him I'm blackmailing you if he catches you."
"I wonder if I could open his safe?" laughed Eva.
Helm's flight touched down at Athens airport just after one o'clock. The advantage of having just hand luggage was that he avoided the wait for the airliner's baggage hold to be unloaded and the scrum around the carousel. He told the immigration officer that he was visiting Phileros Makronotis. He was waved through as an honoured, jet-setting guest the sort of man who had just slept, on and off, with the daughter of an Austrian count after being involved in a major insurance swindle.
He paid 100 drachmas to ride into Athens on the airport bus. He walked round to a large bank a few doors down from the stock exchange. He showed the title page of his dictionary to one of the counter clerks and tapped the Greek for 'English'. She smiled and directed him to the other end of the counter with a red-nailed finger, which made him think of Klara.
He explained to a young man with glossy, black hair that he wanted to rent a deposit box for business papers. He cashed some traveller's cheques for operating expenses and to pay for the deposit box. His Australian identity passport and UK driving licence and $115,000 remained in safe custody when he left the bank. His Australian name was Bruce Dundee. It struck him as unlikely enough to be unchallengeable.
The Nazibilia dealer was called Thiroros. There was very little on show in his shop, just artfully draped purple velvet and a few books, none in languages that Helm could read. Thiroros looked at the letters, each sealed in a plastic wrapper, and offered $2,000.
Helm had forced the price up to $3,500 before he became bored with the bargaining process. He told Thiroros that someone else wanted to look at the letters, and added that he would be in touch again when the other potential customer had made his bid.
He added the letters to his deposit box at the bank and strolled down to Elousis Square and the Hotel Renga. The day was boiling hot, but there seemed to be enough of a breeze blowing to clear the photochemical smog. Athens was no place to be wearing a white cashmere sweater.
The receptionist at the hotel recognized the name Scott. Helm told him that he would wait for Mr. Makronotis in the bar. He had at least an hour and three-quarters in hand before chucking-out time at the stock exchange. Helm asked for a bottle of Heinken and a telephone, and told the barman to charge them to room 322, which he had occupied for less than half an hour a week earlier. Afternoon surgery at the health centre near Maidstone had not yet started. Helm mentioned that he was calling from Athens, which impressed the receptionist no end.
Dr. Bennett came on the line after a short pause. He wouldn't give a definite answer about the results on the second waxy lump. A telephone consultation was inappropriate. Helm promised to catch a flight home as soon as possible. The receptionist gave him a nine-thirty appointment for the next morning.
His next call was to the airport. The next direct flight to London gave Phileros Makronotis a good four hours to find another job for him. Helm drained his glass and returned to the reception counter. He wrote another note explaining where in Zürich he had left the BMW and its keys, and added that he had to go home to see his doctor. Then he told the receptionist that there had been a change of plan as he handed over the note.
There were deep shadows on his side of Elousis Square. He walked briskly round to the main road before flagging down a taxi. The driver blasted him with heavy metal rock music all the way to the airport. There was a half empty Al Italia flight leaving for Rome in twenty minutes. Helm bought a first-class, one-way ticket with a thousand-dollar bill, which was accepted without surprise by a charming blonde with a ready smile.
Helm jet-setted to London via Frankfurt and Paris. Hiring a car seemed the simplest way of getting home from Heathrow. He felt like doing something active, like driving, after sitting on airliners and in airports for five hours. He reached Maidstone at half-past eight, B.S.T. He collected fish and chips with proper malt vinegar on the way home. A week's mail lay in the hall, none of it of any great interest. He glanced at it while he ate his supper. Then he went straight to bed.
He was no longer surprised by the lack of nightmares full of accusing faces of dead men. It was proof that a normal person can kill and feel either that he took the right decision for the circumstances, or admit to himself that events were beyond his control. He could live with the way things had turned out. There was no point in agonizing over the past, at either a subconscious or a conscious level, because he had no power to change it. He could also tell himself that if the waxy lumps ever got him, he had taken a few deserving characters along with him.
When he took his iron capsule the next morning with a breakfast of tea and toast, he realized that he had been free of the symptoms of constipation. That had to be due to either the slow release of ferrous sulphate from the micro-capsules or to achieving a balance between the iron's binding effect and adventures calculated to scare the shit out of the average man.
Dr. Bennett was recovering from a cold. His dripping nose made him reach regularly for a box of man-size tissues. He looked positively unhealthy next to tanned but blue-lipped Robert Helm. Bloodshot eyes was something else that he would remain free from in his anaemic condition, Helm realized.
His doctor had news that was both bad and good. There was evidence of malignancy in the second waxy lump but the consultant was reasonably confident that she had removed all of the tumour. Dr. Bennett wanted Helm to have a body scan to make sure that he had no more visible rotten bits. The results from the second series of blood tests had yet to arrive. The lab wasn't known for its speed.
A cancellation had provided Helm with an eleven o'clock appointment at the hospital. He left home with a book and his building society passbook. He wanted to see if the printer could fit a six-figure number into the space provided. He just stared at the book when the clerk slid it back under the security screen after bringing it up to date.
"Something wrong, Mr. Helm?" she asked when he remained in front of her, blocking the queue.
Helm pushed the book back to her, feeling like a pools winner who has been told that his big pay-out was a mistake. The next man in the queue drew in a heavy breath and let it out between clenched teeth. Helm ignored him. He was prepared to inconvenience a whole roomful of impatient customers for £100,000. The clerk gave him another smile when she returned to her till.
"It was your Telex from Corinth, Mr. Helm. We transferred the money according to your instructions."
"What Telex?" said Helm.
"From Corinth. In Greece."
"I know where it is. I've just never bloody well been there. Hang on. You did say Corinth?"
"Yes," said the clerk. "Is there something wrong?"
"We'll see about that," said Helm grimly.
He stuffed the passbook back into his wallet and strode to the door. He had been stalking along the streets, fuming about the antics of the bastard Roger Gladwin, for five minutes before he realized that he was going the wrong way for the hospital.
Phileros Makronotis had responded to his disappearing act in Athens by taking Helm's capital into protective custody. Worse, striking at Helm's building society account meant that he knew John Scott's real identity. Even worse, £500 of the sequestered £100,000 was Helm's own money as opposed to his earnings from Makronotis.
The receptionist at the scanner unit looked ready to duck when she told Helm that his appointment had been put back to twelve-thirty. A man who had just lost £100,000 could accept the delays of the NHS without flinching and without having to take a swipe at the bearer of bad tidings. Helm just nodded and walked right out again.
He walked down King Street and headed back to High Street. He gave the building society office a black look as he walked past on the other side of the street. Then he came to the renovated, red-brick building that housed the offices of Lancer and Stowe. A stranger early twenties with a vaguely lost look was sitting at his desk when Helm looked into the main office area.
His workmates looked as if they had seen a ghost. During a few minutes' embarrassed conversation, they told him that he looked well enough and wished him well for the future. Helm's long absence from the office and the tension in his manner seemed to confirm that his condition was very serious indeed, despite outward appearances.
Helm continued on down the corridor to Edward Stowe's office. Mrs. Brion, the sentinel secretary, announced the ghost and waved him through to the junior partner's office.
"Bob! You're looking...well," Edward Stowe told him through a brisk hand-shake. He saw a Robert Helm who was tanned, healthy and downcast by bad news. "How are things?"
"Once the Health Service gets you in its clutches, you get to think they've got you for life," said Helm. "All the bloody tests drag on and on."
"They're not finished with you yet?"
"The doctor's still waiting for the blood test results to tell him why I'm so anaemic. And they're shoving me in the body scanner to look for rotten bits. It's the scanner Carol shamed everyone in the office into contributing ten pounds to the appeal fund for. Remember that?"
"Looks like it was worth it, in your case. When are they doing it?"
"Sometime today, if they can get their appointments sorted out."
"You look like you've been out in the sun."
"I thought getting out and about might take my mind off things. I see you managed to fill my desk."
"The work was piling up," Stowe said apologetically.
"That's fair enough," said Helm. "I think it might be best for all concerned if I take a long break. I've got a bit put by." If that sod Makronotis hasn't found my deposit box in Athens, he added to himself.
"You mean a leave of absence?"
"I was thinking more of giving my notice. It takes a bit of time to come to terms with the possibility you might not need a pension. And even if it's a false alarm, well, it's shown me there are some thing I ought to be doing while I've got the chance. And if you've already got someone else to take over from me..."
"It's not too fair on you, though, Bob. After a good few years with us."
"That's a very decent thought," said Helm, "but as our gym master at school used to say, there's nothing fair in life. But whatever happens, I'll be all right."
Stowe agreed to accept his resignation with effect from the last pay day, August 25th, which meant that Helm had been self-employed for a fortnight. He promised to drop a formal letter of resignation into the post and left the offices of Lancer & Stowe for the last time.
He sat and read a paperback in the hospital's waiting room until a quarter to one, trying not to think about the real world. He was jobless and in a hole for £100,000. But he still had his health - until some medical fiend broke more bad news.
He was in two minds about the scan. It suggested to him that there was a real possibility of travelling cancers lodging in his bone marrow and causing his anaemia. He wasn't looking forward to becoming involved in a messy illness, perhaps one for which the treatment was much worse than the early stages of the disease. He still felt all right and his iron capsules were as much medicine as he wanted. With any luck, he was just scaring himself with maybes. On the other hand, he had the luck of someone who had almost been blown to bits three times in eight days.
This consultant was a mature woman with dark red hair and bright red earrings. She had what Helm considered a posh Scottish accent. He had come to the conclusion that the NHS is largely a female domain. He had a male doctor, but he had sent Helm to see female radiographers, surgeons and scanner experts. And all of the administrators seemed to be women, too.
The actual scan was painless and totally boring. Helm lay still on a long tray and allowed himself to be pushed into a white tunnel in the magic doughnut of a five-ton electromagnet. Microwaves bombarded him. Every proton in his body the hydrogen atoms in water, fats, proteins and friendly and enemy cells spun to align its magnetic field with the electromagnet's.
Helm had expected to feel some effect of either the atomic twitching or a magnetic force ten thousand times stronger than that of the Earth. The only indication that anything was happening came from the weird noises. At times, it was like being next door to Ben Hur's chariot race in stereo. At other times, there was a monotonous ticking like a sonic Chinese water torture.
The whole business had an air of unreality. Helm began to suspect that the Scottish doctor and the nurse were laughing at him for putting up with a pointless joke for so long. He spent fifty minutes in the tunnel, gazing at the Disney characters above his head. They told him that the otherwise featureless white arch was closer than the sky. Distance tended to lose its meaning after a while in the tunnel.
He had no means of checking on time passing because the nurse had relieved him of his watch. She had also run a through checklist of bodily metal articles pacemakers, plates, screws, steel pins, artificial joints and metal heart valves. Robert Helm had never needed anything in that line but he felt that John Scott seemed destined to need a few plates, screws and pins before Phileros Makronotis was finished with him. He mentioned his breakfast iron capsule but that didn't count.
Helm left the hospital as the inevitable computer was chewing over the results of his scan. He bought a hot Cornish pasty at the patisserie on King Street and went for a look at the shopping centre while he thought about strategy. Step one took him back to the building society to open a high-interest account, which required ninety day's notice of withdrawals a new home for his £100,000 if he ever got it back.
He kept his back traveller's cheques and a cash reserve, then he unloaded a mixture of sterling, dollars, drachmas and Swiss francs in front of the astonished assistant manager. There was more than enough to cover the minimum deposit required. Helm told the assistant manager that he would pick up the new passbook when the sterling equivalent of his deposit had been calculated, and made a note of the new account number. Then he put step two of his plan into action. He went home to wait for Roger Gladwin to show up.
England is a cold, grey place after Greece, he decided as he completed the ten-minute walk. His home country had one distinct advantage, however. He would move about it on foot without becoming drowned in sweat.
Helm sensed a presence as soon as he opened the front door. He could hear hushed voices and the click of snooker balls. Gladwin was sitting with his feet up, watching Helm's television. He had brought his own beer.
"Comfortable?" said Helm sarcastically.
"Where the hell have you been?" Gladwin kept his eyes on the screen. "You were sent off on a simple job on Monday. What the hell did you do that took three days?"
"I had a body scan, for one thing."
"And the computer's thinking about what the machine told it. Who cocked up the delivery and gave me the real jewels?"
Gladwin shrugged. "These things happen."
"A hazard of being too diabolical?" Helm knew that Gladwin was lying. The casual treatment of the package after its collection from the bank proved that the pick-up man had known that Tsai would have the fakes.
"Erlich got his German arse roasted," laughed Gladwin. "But the jewels didn't belong to the boss. His little girl put up a spirited defence of you costing her thumb at nine point five million bucks."
"You reckon Tsai would have told the Count, 'Screw you, do your worst,' if it had been me about to get chopped up?"
"She's quite a little fanatic in her own way. Where were you when von Arlberg's clinic went up in smoke?"
"Where's my hundred grand?" countered Helm.
"It's quite safe," grinned Gladwin. "The boss told me to make sure you come back to Athens. I reckon you will now."
"I want my cash back before I answer any more questions. Or get on any planes."
"Or?" grinned Gladwin.
"I learned not to bother with 'or' over the last couple of days. Let's just say certain people might not enjoy my next move if we do have to go to 'or'."
"I do believe the lad's starting to get the hang of this business. Hey, what a brilliant pot!"
"Pity he's not on any of the colours." Helm sat down and helped himself to one of Gladwin's cans of lager, letting the older man know that the next move was up to him.
Gladwin made two international telephone calls while the referee was resetting the table between frames. The missing money reappeared and moved to Helm's new, predator-proof account, and Phileros Makronotis gave him a personal assurance that he would have the power of veto on all future jobs. Significantly, Makronotis continued to call him 'Mr. Scott', which suggested that Helm's real identity remained Gladwin's secret.
Looking at his position realistically, Helm was prepared to admit that he had made the best bargain possible. The billionaire still wanted revenge for his granddaughter's kidnapping. Someone who might be able to identify the criminals stood no chance of being allowed to walk out of the Greek's life after offering his grateful thanks for past opportunities to risk his life.
When the snooker session ended, Helm unplugged his television, collected his repacked and waiting cabin bag, and drove the hire car back to London with Gladwin as a passenger.
Another endless trek south, via Frankfurt this time, brought him back to the familiar bustle of Athens airport for the umpteenth time. An over-officious customs officer rummaged through his cabin bag as if to prove that he wasn't overawed by the name Makronotis. The official barely glanced at Gladwin, proving that he was a hypocrite.
"Ya anemia," said Helm, using a Greek word to tell the customs man what his spansules were for.
The official looked at the front and back of the box, took the part-used blister pack out and looked at Helm. Then, with a nod of agreement, he dropped the box back into the bag. Helm was irrationally outraged. In his opinion, his lightly tanned self no longer looked like one of Count Dracula's empties.
A car was waiting for Gladwin and Helm outside the terminal building. It sped through the deep night to drop Gladwin in Athens on the way to the Makronotis villa, arriving at 11:30, local time. Klara appeared at the front door to escort Helm up to his room, full of questions about what he had been up to. They had the place to themselves, apart from a few servants. Tsai was on assignment somewhere and Phileros Makronotis was holding a party at his hotel in the city.
When he had dumped his cabin bag, Klara took Helm down to the ground-floor sitting room. An open bottle of Barsac was waiting for them. Helm resumed his edited highlights of a desperate campaign to save the world from a resurgence of Nazism in the twenty-first century.
Klara hung on his every word, which was a very flattering experience. They were sitting on a couch, half-turned to face each other. Sympathetic body language drew them closer and closer, allowing Helm to relate what was criminal behaviour in an intimate murmurer.
Gladwin had mentioned on the flight from Frankfurt how Klara had been pining for Tsai. Helm had tried to create the impression of going along with a joke while knowing from the start that it had been just a joke. Now, he was starting to wonder if he and Klara might be on the verge of a deep and meaningful relationship, which would have all the intensity packed into brief duration of a wartime romance. As an associate member of the private army run by Phileros Makronotis, he had not yet ceased to flirt with violent death.
The couch shifted, making them bump foreheads. Helm grabbed for support, and found himself holding both the back of the couch and Klara's knee. "Sorry." He released the knee reluctantly. "Did the earth just move for you?"
"It's just a deep tremor," said Klara knowledgeably. "We've been getting them for a couple of days. They release tension and stop a big earthquake building up. That's what a guy from the university said on TV. What happened after the SS guard got back in the lift?"
Helm resumed his story with the planting of the bombs and Avvi's attempt to rob him. He was skirting tactfully around Eva von Arlberg's passionate reaction to their adventure when he heard a sound like distant, buried thunder.
He had just enough time to realize that the noise reminded him of the eruption at the Gletscher Klinik. Then the earth moved in earnest and the ceiling came down.