HELM WAS SITTING BY THE table with his feet up on a stool. His instinct was to freeze his body in case the slightest movement startled Gladwin into shooting him. At a higher level, he knew that nothing that he could do would startle a man with Gladwin's poise and experience.
"What calibre's your gun?" he asked in a tone that almost succeeded in conveying boredom.
"Three fifty-seven Magnum." Gladwin frowned. "Why?"
"It's just that I'd hate to surrender to a popgun. So you're the leak? I don't give much for your chances."
"I don't give much for yours when Kaiser finds out you've been working for me under a false identity."
"Not even if it was your idea?"
"Is he going to believe it, though?"
"So what's your first move."
"Yours is to put these on." Gladwin dropped two pairs of handcuffs onto the table. "Cuff your right wrist to your left ankle and vice versa."
Helm obeyed. He even summoned the cheek to have a drink of mineral water before he immobilized himself. Then Gladwin brought a suitcase into the hut and began to unpack gadgets. He seemed to have packed a whole lot of stuff into a small volume.
"This is an electronic presence," he explained. "I'm going to draw the curtains and shut the door so no one can look inside. This will switch a light on when it gets dark, create moving shadows on the curtains, change channels on a radio and so on. Everyone will think you're sitting tight, waiting for your buyer to arrive tomorrow. So the gang will rush the hut and Kaiser's mob will flood the area with knock-out gas."
"They didn't tell me about that," said Helm. "Or bother giving me a gas mask."
"Since when did anyone tell you anything much?" scoffed Gladwin.
"Or anything other than a load of lies? In that situation, you learn to check things out for yourself."
"Meaning you saw me doing a deal on Molivi Street yesterday morning?"
"Were you worried I might try and blackmail you?"
"Me?" grinned Gladwin. "When we're working together? What do you think's in the van?"
"There's some paintings in one of the boxes. I had a look. They don't look anything special. I suppose the rest of the decoys are similar junk?"
"The decoys are in the Hotel Renga's security vault. I reckon Kaiser won't find them gone until someone notices you've gone missing for real."
"I suppose it was you who told Max von Arlberg who was really carrying his family heirlooms?"
"You don't like to see a bloke getting messed about by a woman."
"Did he actually pay you anything?"
"Nothing for nothing, Robert, lad," grinned Gladwin.
"Bloody hell!" said Helm, impressed. "Did you have to use dynamite to get his wallet open?"
"Just my natural charm."
Gladwin took a quarter of an hour to create his electronic presence. There was a small electric winch to lift a curtain open, as if Helm was checking for people sneaking up on him in the night, and then let it fall back into place. Gladwin fastened fishing weights to the stiff cloth to make sure that the curtain would fall closed. A cardboard cut-out shape on an arm would move in front of a light to throw shadows onto the closed curtains. The control box contained a built-in radio with automatic station change.
Helm was allowed to unlock his handcuffs, make a space among the boxes in the back of the van, then re-attach his wrists again to the opposite ankle. Gladwin drove a short distance from the workshop, then he returned to brush away his tracks with a leafy branch.
Helm could see a solid cloud of dust through the van's rear window when Gladwin set off the nearest road. Its source was explained when Gladwin stopped on the narrow, paved road to remove and discard the branches that he had tied to the bumper to remove his tyre tracks.
A quarter of an hour after setting off, Gladwin drove through a fairly large town and into a spacious, single-storey building with a steel-shutter door. Helm slid out of the van. He hobbled, still handcuffed, to a metal-framed chair. Gladwin had unscrewed the padded arm rests from the framework.
An eighteen-inch length of one-inch diameter steel tube lay on the green canvas seat of the chair. A doubled length of chain was threaded through the tube. Gladwin released Helm's left wrist and trapped it in the loop of chain protruding from the steel tube. He pulled the chain taught, then he used a padlock to trap the free ends of the chain around Helm's right wrist. Helm was stuck with his wrists held tight up against the ends of the pipe.
Gladwin passed two more padlocks through bolt holes in the frame of the chair and fastened them through links of the chain. Helm found that he could move his wrists back and forward about an inch, but that was the full extent of his mobility. He hoped that he wouldn't develop an itch somewhere remote as Gladwin handcuffed his ankles to the chair. The strip of wide, surgical tape applied as a gag made him glad that he had taken the trouble to shave that morning.
Gladwin drove away in the van after a parting wave and a mocking grin. Helm's eyes had become accustomed to the gloom in the oblong building, which was built of brick with a roof of corrugated iron. It was around thirty yards long by twenty yards wide. The windows had been painted over with black paint. His chair was chained to a support for a pipe, which ran along one of the long walls. He was about twenty yards from the door.
Helm could see a heap of wooden pallets at the back of the building, which suggested that it was used for storage. There was a composty smell mixed with the van's exhaust. Some painful tugging convinced him that he wasn't going to be able to free his chair from the cast iron pipe and its bracket. Not being Harry Houdini, he was stuck. But he felt in no immediate danger.
He was sure that if he were too dangerous to keep alive, Gladwin would have shot him in the wild country on the way to wherever they were. Koropi was the first town of any size directly to the south of the hut. No, his problems would begin when Gladwin released him.
Phileros Makronotis was rich enough to order his men to shoot first and worry about recovering the loot later. In fact, if the odd items that Helm had seen were typical of the whole, then Makronotis might prefer to settle for the insurance money.
Gladwin returned after twenty minutes. He removed the tape-gag with surprising care and unlocked Helm's bonds. The van was parked right outside the door. Helm took the wheel. Gladwin got in the back, among the boxes. There were fewer boxes and Gladwin pushed the survivors aside as if they were empty. He had exchanged his camouflage jacket for a long, loose, dark blue zip-up jacket, which hid his belt holster.
After reminding Helm about his gun, Gladwin told him to take the road to the west. They met a road north to Athens in sight of the airport. Helm overtook one of the airport buses and wondered where the hell he was going with a vanload of empty boxes.
Their destination was a café on the edge of the Monastiraki district. Helm and Gladwin drank Heineken at adjacent tables. No knowing the Greek for: Help, I'm being held prisoner by a man with a gun under his jacket, Helm felt obliged to sit at his table and wait for further orders.
A hot policeman with his shirt sleeves rolled up, walked round the van then gave it a parking ticket either because he disliked that shade of green or because the van was standing too close to a corner. When the policeman was out of sight, Gladwin tapped Helm's ankle with his toe.
"Go to the van, crumple the ticket and ditch it."
Helm obeyed. Then he drove them back to Koropi. Gladwin let him use the ripe urinal at the back of the storage hanger before chaining him to the chair again. Gladwin moved the van into the building and rolled down the shutter door. Helm stained his ears but he heard no other vehicle start nearby within the next few minutes.
Gladwin had translated a radio news item on the way back - a description of an Irishman called John Scott. The police were looking for him as part of Kaiser's plan to make the notion that Scott had escaped with their loot more plausible to the kidnappers and villa-raiders. The police were not yet looking for the van, but a record of its parking offence would turn up in due course.
Craven Kaiser would place the worst possible interpretation on a sighting of the van at the shady end of Athens when it should have been miles away. He was assume that Helm had been negotiating a price for all or part of the loot with a second-rank fence instead of acting as bait. Helm could expect to receive from his fence up to twice what Makronotis was paying him to risk his neck, which would make the betrayal look worth while.
Helm was feeling hot, thirsty and hungry when Gladwin turned up again, half an hour later. It was half past six but not dinnertime. Gladwin wheeled a stand with a television and a videorecorder in front of Helm and plugged the system in at a wall socket. Then he removed the gag.
"The clock's running," said Gladwin. "Kaiser's mob settled into their ambush positions half an hour ago. The opposition will be having their dinner now. And telling each other how many pieces they're going to chop you into when they catch up with you."
"Great!" Helm croaked through his dry throat.
"I'd give you a drink but I don't want to encourage you to do any yelling. Thought you might like to watch some telly to pass the time." Gladwin started a tape playing and moved the television's volume control up its track.
The music video featured an American heavy-metal rock concert. Given rather more comfortable surroundings and a lower volume, Helm might have enjoyed the entertainment. Gladwin attracted his attention by reaching round to the back of his loose jacket to take a self-loading pistol out of his belt.
He cocked the hammer with an ostentatious flick of his thumb and aimed the gun at the centre of Helm's forehead. Helm was sure he wouldn't pull the trigger right up to the moment when the hammer smashed down on the end of the firing pin, sending it on what turned out to be a fruitless journey into the chamber. Gladwin pushed the pistol into Helm's right hand.
"There's a full clip, but you need to get both hands on the slide to load it. Don't drop it. I'll be nearby, keeping an eye on you. You watch your telly."
Helm's chair faced the door. Anyone coming in would see him sitting there, apparently armed and dangerous. The back of his neck crawled when Gladwin moved behind him. The television drowned any subtle sound clues as to what the security advisor was up to.
First on the tape was a band called L.A. Loud, which did its best to live up to the name. A flash of light caught Helm's attention during the third or fourth number of the set. The steel-shutter door lifted just enough to let someone roll under it. When the door closed again, Helm lost the dark shape in the thick gloom. A movement at the van drew his eyes. Gladwin walked into view past his right shoulder. He switched off the video system on his way to the van. He returned dragging someone by the shoulders.
"Your little Chinese mate's bloody persistent," he remarked to Helm. "I had a lot of dodging about to do and there was a severe risk of picking up a tail. That Kaiser's a bloody suspicious sod. So I thought I'd better set up a trap in case he set his bloodhound on me."
"What have you done to her?" Helm demanded.
"Just a tranquillizer dart to knock her out for a few minutes."
"She's not Chinese, you know. She's American-French-Vietnamese."
"Yes, I know."
Gladwin threw a length of chain over a pipe near the top of the wall and used two more padlocks to create loops round Tsai Yuan-lin's wrists. Another of his apparently inexhaustible supply of padlocks closed off a loop of chain to leave her sagging in a standing position.
"Right, son, I'll just have a quick look round outside," said Gladwin. "Then we'll see about a little accident with a gun covered with your fingerprints. After the dope in the dart's worn off, of course. We wouldn't want it showing up at the post mortem, would we?"
Gladwin headed for the door. Helm's first impulse was to drop the pistol, but that wouldn't wipe his fingerprints off. He was sure that Tsai would know what to do to save the day, but she was out of action. It was time for Robert Helm to come up with a solution for once. He needed to get some lateral thinking done and quickly.
He knew that the pistol was loaded by pulling back the sliding steel jacket around the barrel. The slide had to be retracted until the spring in the magazine could push the top cartridge into the path of the bit that pushes cartridges into the chamber. Lateral thinking, he also knew, is all about turning a problem on its head to make it solvable. The opposite of pull is push.
Helm leaned forward and turned the muzzle of the pistol toward himself so that he could examine it at close range in the dim light. The weapons was a Colt Commander, according to the lettering on the slide, which had a rearing horse stamped into it.
There was a knurled ring at the back of the hammer, rather than the curving spur of a cowboy six-shooter, to allow it to be cocked with the thumb. The pistol was a hell of a weight at least a couple of pounds. Helm gripped it tightly to make sure that he didn't drop it.
He would have to push the top part of the slide back. The clearance around the barrel was about an eighth of an inch. The blade of the foresight would give him a little more mechanical advantage. There was enough slack in the chain to let him lift his right wrist about an inch from the tubular arm of the chair, and he could turn his hand freely.
Helm turned his hand palm uppermost and rotated the pistol about his index finger, which he kept thrust through the trigger guard as a safety measure. When he was holding the barrel end instead of the butt, he stopped to consider his next move. With limited wrist mobility, he had to turn the pistol until he could wedge the top of the slide against the tubular arm of the chair.
The manoeuvre seemed impossible until he realized that he had to turn his hand over. With the pistol upside down, butt pointing to the roof, index finger through the trigger guard for security, he pushed against the round arm of the chair. The pistol skidded off the painted metal at once.
It was all a question of getting the angle between slide and chair exactly right, and of applying enough downward force to create enough friction to lock them together. After several false starts, he got everything exactly right.
The slide started to move back against what felt like an incredibly strong spring. It moved back and back. Then the pistol slipped. The slide crashed forward with a ring of steel on steel.
When he dared to look, Helm could see that the hammer had been forced back far enough to lock it in the cocked position. Hoping that the weapon was loaded, he took his finger out of the trigger guard in case he shot himself in the leg by accident.
He turned the pistol cautiously until he was gripping the butt again, index finger straight beside the trigger guard, copying what he had seen often enough on TV. He put his thumb on the knurled grip on the hammer, then he put his finger on the trigger and squeezed gently. The spring was strong but he found he could lower the hammer under control onto the firing pin.
His night of passion with Eva von Arlberg had included a demonstration of the workings of a self-loading pistol. He knew that the firing pin needs a good whack from the hammer before it will fly against the resistance of its spring to fire the cartridge in the chamber. He also knew that, in theory, the firing pin remains safely in its tunnel if the hammer is lowered slowly.
Tsai's chains rattled. She seemed to be waking up very slowly. Then the shutter door rumbled up to about waist height. Gladwin ducked under it. Helm cocked the hammer of his pistol and aimed it at the approaching figure.
"Playing games, are we?" Gladwin called cheerfully.
Helm let him approach to within ten yards of the chair, then he leaned to the right, putting his eye-line over the pistol, to check his aim. "I managed to load this one-handed. I reckon you'd better put your hands up."
Gladwin stopped and put his hands on his hips. "Ten out of ten for trying, old son," he laughed. "You're really getting into this business, aren't you?"
"Put your gun on the floor and then unlock Tsai."
"Yeah, right!" laughed Gladwin.
Helm shifted his aim to one side and squeezed the trigger. The pistol bucked in his hand. Helm only just managed to hang on to it as the chain dug painfully into his wrist. Gladwin stopped laughing. Reaching into his jacket, he dropped into a crouch. There was a shot. Helm heard the bullet strike a wall. He started firing. Gladwin's head snapped back. He thudded to the concrete floor just before his Magnum pistol made its crash landing.
"Good shooting, Johnny," called a voice from the door. "Is this the van with all the lovely paintings and statues?" The female voice had a German accent.
"Is that you, Eva?" called Helm.
"Hello, darling." Eva von Arlberg in a black velvet jacket and matching pants approached to look at the prisoners, swinging her pocket-pistol by the trigger guard. "How were you planning to get free with the keys over there?"
"I was thinking more about staying alive," said Helm. "But now you're here, darling..."
"What is your van worth? Two million bucks?"
"You'll never get away with it. And this isn't a water pistol I'm holding. A gorgeous lady like you would look dreadful with bullet holes in her."
"You would shoot me for a lousy two million bucks, Johnny? The man who gave away nine point five million to save this woman's thumb? I know you are bluffing me, darling."
"Before you stroll off with the van and leave us, have a look in the back." Helm nodded to Gladwin's still form. "He moved everything."
Eva von Arlberg opened the rear door of the van and explored one of the boxes. It was empty. So were the others. With a shrug of regret, she went over to Gladwin to search his pockets for keys. Helm lowered the hammer of his pistol.
"Did you know your friend is still alive?" Eva remarked as she tested keys in Helm's padlocks.
She took the padlock keys over to Tsai while Helm was unlocking the handcuffs on his ankles. When he was free, he trotted over to Gladwin. The older man was lying sprawled on his back with his eyes open. His stare was fixed and there was no pulse in the hollow between his neck and his collar bone. He was dead now.
"No hard feelings," Helm said softly. "It was a nice try for your two million bucks." He had no doubt that Gladwin would have been able to raise at least as much as the full insurance value.
"Dead, Johnny?" said Tsai. She was holding Helm's pistol, which he had left on his chair, and Gladwin's Magnum. She was in charge again.
"Probably the best thing for him," said Helm. "He wouldn't have wanted Makronotis to get hold of him when he came out of hospital. I suppose Kaiser put you on his trail?"
"He should be in Corinth. Kaiser think he work with you. But work for himself. You save us both."
Tsai put her arms round Helm's neck and kissed him soundly. It was a strange experience. He wasn't used to being kissed by a woman with a heavy pistol clenched in either hand. Tsai glanced at Eva when she released him. Helm realized that she had made such a meal of the embrace for the other woman's benefit.
"Go phone now." Tsai gave Helm a quick peck on the lips. She told Eva to get out of town in frosty, fluent French, then she trotted to the shutter door.
"Your little friend thinks I should get lost, darling," said Eva.
"How ungracious." Helm tried to look shocked. He knew enough business and bar-room French to know that he would never use that sort of language to a lady. Tsai was clearly less inhibited in Eva's case, at any rate.
"I might as well go," Eva added. "If your other friend left nothing in the van."
"Sorry to disappoint you," said Helm. "What brought you here, anyway?"
"Daddy was keeping track of you. To see if he could ambush you to make you stop blackmailing him. Naturally, when I heard you had disappeared with two million dollars of objects d'art, I came to look for you to help you to sell them for a good price. I put a bug on the Chinese woman's car."
"Clever of you." Helm started for the van. "Where did you get your gun?"
"People keep surprising things in deposit boxes. Not just money and blackmail documents."
Eva had thrown one of the cartons out of the van. Helm removed the rest of the boxes, shaking them before discarding them. Eva explored the corners of the van to make sure that nothing had fallen out of a box. It was Helm who found a lump wrapped in a hand-towel in the dashboard. He examined the six-inch, jade statuette without enthusiasm.
"It's pretty ghastly, isn't it?" he remarked.
"Seventeenth century Chinese, from the Manchu period," said Eva with the air of a connoisseur. "It must be worth fifty thousand dollars, darling."
"So you won't be going home empty-handed?"
"Will you go with me to make sure you will get your half share?" smiled Eva.
"I have to stay here to straighten things out with Makronotis. Your dad's only a millionaire. I've got a billionaire looking to ambush me and I don't fancy the odds. I'll keep quiet about the statue on one condition."
"I hope it will be one that I can keep," smiled Eva.
"Tell your dad you outsmarted me and I can't blackmail him any more. Because you destroyed the evidence."
"You drive a hard bargain, Johnny." Eva put the statuette down and gave Helm a long kiss. "That was better than the Chinese woman." There was no hint of question in her confident statement.
"Actually, she's French. Or American," said Helm.
"Really?" Eva's smile told him that she wasn't really interested.
Helm escorted her to the shutter door. It faced away from the town. He could see a road going south, leading into a lot of hilly countryside. He was surprised that no one had bothered to investigate the shots. They had sounded deafening inside the storage hanger.
Eva locked her precious bundle in the dashboard of her powder blue Mercedes sports car and took a sun-cover off the leather driving seat. She headed north with a wave and the snarl of a highly tuned engine.
Tsai turned up in a dusty green Ford Fiesta just as Helm was starting to think that he had been abandoned. She fetched two of Gladwin's padlocks, closed the shutter door and used the padlocks to secure it. She left the keys above eye-level on the bracket of a drainpipe.
"We go hide now," she told Helm with a bright smile. "Feel okay, John?"
"I reckon," nodded Helm. "I feel, well, uninvolved. Gladwin was pushing the buttons all the way down to the end. He put the gun in my hand. He gave me no choice about pulling the trigger. I feel like I was just along for the ride."
"Stick with that," said Tsai.
She made Helm put on a pair of mirror sunglasses and pull a floppy hat down over his face. She drove toward the setting sun, then turned north toward familiar territory. As they approached Valaki, Helm remembered that he had rented the studio flat for four weeks. He was entitled to hide there for the next four days. Tsai changed course when he suggested the flat as a hiding place. She seemed to like his plan better than her own.
Tsai told him to go indoors when they reached their hide-out, then she carried on up the road to do some shopping. There were signs of occupation in the first-floor flat wrapping paper, empty bottles and recent newspapers.
Helm realized that Gladwin, or his satellites, had been using the place. He knew now why he had been told to pay a month's rent when he expected his first job for Phileros Makronotis to last just the one week. Gladwin had been free-lancing from an unsuspected base.
Tsai found him sitting in a beach chair on the flat part of his roof, listening to a neighbour's television, which was tuned to what sounded like an American cop show dubbed into Greek.
"Am I in the clear now?" Helm asked after polishing off half a bottle of mineral water. "Or are you going to tell me 'yes' now and shove a gun in my face later?"
"What can I say to that?" laughed Tsai. "You in clear, cross my heart, hope to die. When Kaiser phone, we go to hotel in Athens."
"So we're here for a while? Did you bring any grub?"
Tsai unpacked a bottle of wine, a round loaf and hot, grilled mullet in greaseproof paper.
"How are your wrists?" said Helm. "You seem to be making a career out of getting hung up. I know I didn't enjoy it when that old ratbag Ianos did it to me."
"Okay now," said Tsai. "You still okay about Gladwin? Kaiser fix boat accident. No body found."
"You heard what he was going to do?"
"Shoot me, leave gun with your fingerprint."
"I didn't want to shoot him. I think he might have shot me while I was making my mind up. If Eva hadn't taken a pot at him, and missed when he went into his firing crouch... I thought it was Gladwin shooting at me. That's why I started shooting at him."
"Believe me, Johnny, if you not shoot Gladwin, he shoot us both. It was us or two million bucks. Easy choice for Gladwin. You get rid of that woman okay?"
"Eva? The van was empty so there was no reason for her to stick around."
"You know where treasure buried?"
"You fancy digging it up and disappearing with me?"
"Good idea, but we get caught when we sell stuff."
"I suppose you're right. Gladwin went somewhere in the van for about twenty minutes. Most of the boxes had gone and the rest were empty when he came back. Allowing five minutes for unloading, and a bit more for hiding the boxes, he can't have gone far. If you do a bit of detective work, you should find the stuff easily enough. This fish is bloody good. It's one of the things I'll miss about Greece."
"You go home now, Robert?"
"What happened to Johnny? How long have you known who I really am?"
"Kaiser not trust Gladwin. Or you. Always in clubs with Gladwin."
"What do you mean, clubs? Plural?" protested Helm.
"Gladwin say you go to lots of clubs with him."
"There was only one! Between being collected from old Taxacaris' hut and getting set up for filleting by bloody Erlich at the Hotel Batiris."
"Gladwin say lots, so Kaiser run check on you. Johnny Scott just passport and driving licence. Find out this morning your name Robert Helm."
"And that made him even more suspicious of me? Just the way Gladwin planned it. Mix in a little truth to spice up a lot of lies and I end up on his side. No, he can't have planned all this from the start. He must have been creating options in case they came in useful."
"Kaiser more suspicious when you and van gone at ambush. And treasure gone from hotel."
"I thought they were just going to surround the hut and not move in till the bad guys arrived?"
Tsai shrugged. "Tell you one plan, do another."
"Yes, there's a lot of that about." Helm refilled their glasses with wine as a fusillade erupted from the neighbour's television room. "What the hell are that lot watching?"
"Yank cop show. Kaiser call it Miami Tripe."
"I never thought I'd be living something like that. But I suppose you're used to it?"
"I go places, check on people, come home," said Tsai. "All routine. Only excitement on security exercise. We not have kidnap and earthquake every week, Johnny."
"I suppose not. If you did, Makronotis would have taken his billion somewhere quieter years ago. Cheers!"
The long-awaited telephone call came as half a Moon was dropping onto a lighthouse at the southern tip of Salamis. It was a warm, starry night, with lights moving in the dark bowl of the bay on business and for the benefit of tourists. Tsai went down to the studio in response to the insistent rings. She returned carrying a heavy shopping bag.
"Bad guys attack early," she announced. "All in bag now. We go to Athens."
"Suits me," said Helm. "Want me to carry your bag?"
"Ha, ha!" mocked Tsai.
Tsai opened her shopping bag. "Give you guns, Johnny?"
"How could I know what you've got in here?" said Helm indignantly. "I haven't got bloody X-ray eyes. And I thought we were on the same side. What have I got to gain from pointing a gun at you?"
"Maybe you know where treasure is."
"What's the French for 'suspicious sod'? All right, carry your own bloody bag."
Helm was fuming inside as he carried the chairs from the roof to the studio, switched things off and locked up. Tsai attitude was professionally correct keeping him at arm's length but he felt that he had earned the right to be trusted. Tsai gave him the keys to her car. When he was sitting behind the wheel, Helm switched on the interior light and turned to face her.
"Before we go anywhere, I want to get something straight. Am I supposed to be your prisoner?"
"No," said Tsai.
"Am I on your side? If so, why can't I have a gun?"
"Sorry, Johnny, orders."
"How far would you go to follow these orders? Would you shoot me down if Makronotis gave you a direct order?"
"Would you just stand by and let Kaiser shoot me instead?"
"No way. You good guy. Save my life."
"All right, prove you think I'm a good guy."
"How?" frowned Tsai.
"Give me that automatic. And the magazine you took out."
"Orders, Johnny. Kaiser say no gun for you."
"Screw Kaiser. And screw your orders, too. This is strictly between you and me. Prove you trust me or you'll have to drive one-handed because you'll need a gun in the other hand to keep me in the car."
"Or what? If I not give you gun?"
"Or I leg it for the airport at the first opportunity and get the hell out of here. And no more co-operation, that's for sure."
"You not got passport."
"Suppose you let me worry about that? Well? What about it?"
Tsai looked at him for a long time, then she shrugged. She took the pistol and the magazine out of her shopping bag and handed them to Helm. He inserted the magazine and worked the slide to load a round into the chamber.
"So, you're at my mercy now. I could shoot you and drive off to dig up the treasure."
"You not shoot me," said Tsai.
"You're absolutely sure of that?"
"Yes." Tsai nodded confidently. "Not even point gun at me."
"I wish I could be as sure as you." Helm lowered the hammer and returned the pistol. He had kept it pointing up at the roof to make absolutely sure that an accident would blow a hole in the car rather than Tsai.
"I good guy too." Tsai unloaded the pistol. "We go now?"
"We go now," said Helm. "And thanks, Tsai. I really need someone I can trust. And someone who trusts me. That was a bit of a risk you took."
"Trust own judgement," said Tsai, the competent professional.
Helm started the engine. He headed for Athens, slicing into the thick gloom of an unlit road with his headlights on full beam. He was well aware that his demonstration of good faith from Tsai counted for very little. She knew that he wasn't the sort of person to shoot her just because she had annoyed him. But if Helm had been trapped with nothing to lose, arming him would be another matter entirely.
He had been assailed from all sides in the last month or so - by bombs, by criminals, by an earthquake and even by his own body. He had seen enough dirty dealing and betrayal to keep a TV series going for six months. And he had been forced to make life and death decisions for real.
He was more John Scott than Robert Helm now. And he was a lot more dangerous than he had been a month before. He still had a future that might run out the next time he saw his doctor, and he had been through enough trouble to know how to create problems for the trouble-makers.
Helm made good time to the city, then he struggled through Saturday night traffic on the race tracks at the heart of Athens. Tsai flashed a pass to deflect the attendant at the Hotel Renga's car park. She escorted Helm to room 310, then left to deposit the shooting irons in the armoury.
Phileros Makronotis and an aide were sitting at an impressive bank of radio equipment, busy killing a celebratory bottle of champagne. The aide opened another bottle to fill a glass for Helm. Helm gave an account of his day from Gladwin's arrival at the hut onwards. He mentioned Eva von Arlberg's timely arrival but kept quiet about her departure with a trophy worth $50,000.
"And so you consider your assignment complete, Mr Helm?" Makronotis said when Helm ran out of things to tell him.
Helm shrugged, knowing that the decision lay out of his hands. "You've got all the kidnappers, I hear. And the loot. You had no idea what Gladwin was planning? Or your security staff?"
"The English have a talent for treachery. They make no song and dance about it, they just get on with it, throwing suspicion elsewhere." Makronotis opened a folder on the conference table to show Helm an Irish passport. "I regret I shall have to keep your travel documents until my property is recovered. You will find your luggage in your usual room."
"You haven't got the loot yet? Well, I suppose your people have been a bit busy. As I told Tsai, Gladwin wasn't away for long so it can't be far from where he took me. I'll go and wallow in a bath if you don't need me."
Helm left the conference room wondering where Klara was. If he had to stay on in Athens, he was entitled to have the companionship of his personal interpreter. Tsai emerged from another room as he was walking along the corridor. He gave a wolf whistle to attract her attention.
"What happened to Klara? Is she here?" he called.
"Amercott bad guy," Tsai said apologetically. "She work for Gladwin. Sorry, Johnny. She locked up somewhere."
Helm stopped and stared at her. Betrayal seemed common currency in his new life but he would have staked everything on being able to count on Klara. He had been feeling quite cheerful. Now, depression swamped him. He felt trapped and unable to trust Phileros Makronotis to let him go without finding him another suicide mission.