The Terminal Man
by Philip Turner
Chapter 20

KLARA'S FINGERS CLOSED on his arm with hysterical force. Helm gasped and levered them off. He held a finger to her lips, then slid out of the bed. He tried to cross the creaky floor with the minimum number of steps. There was a shape kneeling before the studio couch, groping for a torch. A female whisper was swearing fluently in French. Helm switched on the light.
   "What the hell are you doing?" he demanded.
   Tsai Yuan-lin broke into a broad grin. "Forget your pants, Johnny?"
   Helm realized that he was covered in nothing more than his own confusion. He dashed back into the bedroom to pull on his jeans, taking great care with the zip. Tsai followed him, switching on the light. She stopped to stare at Klara.
   "Come in and sit down, why don't you?" Helm moved the rest of his clothes onto the bed and sat down beside them.
   Tsai perched on the chair, frowning in bafflement. "I thought you mad with Amercott?"
   "She's been on my side all along," said Helm. "She was keeping tabs on Gladwin and Erlich for me. But no one gave her a chance to say so."
   "Oh, yeah?" said Tsai suspiciously.
   "We're looking for the million dollars," Helm improvised.
   "What million dollars?" frowned Tsai.
   "Gladwin as good as told me Erlich swapped forgeries for the ransom money when little what's-her-name got kidnapped. From what we know about him now, there's a good chance the million didn't get blown up because he hung on to it."
   "You not tell Mr. Makronotis, Johnny."
   "For several very good reasons. Number one of them being that we don't have much to go on. As for number two, after my experience with my mate Roger Gladwin, I don't trust any of the other security advisors. And number three, if I told Makronotis I thought his million bucks was floating around somewhere, he'd only ask me what I'm doing ponsing around and not going and getting it for him. And tag an 'or else' onto the end of it."
   "Maybe," Tsai admitted.
   "Come off it. You know bloody well there's no maybe about it. You know how Makronotis operates. If I can't find the cash, he'll only assume I've hidden it somewhere and I'm planning to stroll back for it later. So wouldn't you have done the same? Say nothing in case you don't find anything?"
   "I'll take that as an affirmative."
   "What you do with Amercott?"
   "Now you've found his vanload of treasure, I thought old Makronotis might be persuaded to give us our passports back and just let us split."
   "One problem, Johnny. Not find treasure."
   "You what!?" Helm's expression of outrage softened into a slow grin. "I get it. You're playing the heart-attack game. Where did you find it."
   "For real. Not find treasure. Come here to look for clue."
   "But you must have! It must be somewhere within a mile or so of Koropi at the most, if it's not in the town. He didn't have time to go anywhere else."
   "Not in town. You sure you not got it?"
   "Do you want to search me? Or give me a lie-detector test? Or let Doctor Whatsit hypnotize me again?"
   "No, I believe you," said Tsai. "So treasure lost? Only Gladwin know where it go?"
   "Unless Klara can remember something he said that might give us a clue. Or I can. You can tell that to your boss. It might stop him sending someone to shoot Klara. Someone who doesn't trip over the furniture."
   "Trip at hole in carpet," Tsai admitted. "Fall into easel."
   "You didn't hurt yourself?"
   "No, okay. Easel bit bent."
   "I might have shot you by mistake."
   "What with?" laughed Tsai. "That gun in pocket, Johnny, or just pleased to see me?"
   "I have got one, you know. Makronotis gave me one."
   "You not shoot first. You always wait one second too long. You not trained. You not shoot Gladwin until after you think he shoot you."
   "I did shoot him in the end, though. Remember that."
   "I know. That why us good guys still alive. Phone me tomorrow? If you think of something? At hotel?"
   "You're not trying to check up on me?" grinned Helm. "We can't go anywhere without our passports, can we?"
   Tsai gave him a calculating look. "Maybe you think of something."
   Helm saw her to the door, then he retrieved the pistol from behind the picture. Klara pulled a face as he put it under his pillow.
   "Are you expecting more visitors?"
   "No, but someone else might just think it's worth grilling me about the two or three million that's up for grabs. I prefer to tell them to get lost from a position of strength."
   "Do you often get women calling on you at three in the morning?"
   "Not often enough. Have you met Tsai before?"
   "Only on the phone a couple of times. How well do you know her?"
   "She's never dragged me into bed, if that's what you mean. We've been chained up together a couple of times, though."
   "So we've been working together all along?" said Klara. "Do you reckon Mr. Makronotis will buy that?"
   "He'll buy whatever suits him. And what does he know for sure? They didn't grill you, did they?"
   "No one said a word. They just showed me some photos of me talking to Gladwin, and played me some bits of recordings of conversations, then they hauled me off to the wreck of the villa. That was the most frightening part of it, their silence."
   "Right," nodded Helm. "They just put their own interpretation on the compromising material. They didn't bother getting your side of things because they thought they knew it. Greek macho men. They know it all. And with Gladwin dead, they can't check back with him on what we tell them. So Mr. Makronotis might just believe us if we can back it up with some loot."
   "You reckon you'll get a finder's fee on the million?"
   "I don't care about a finder's fee. Why does everyone assume I do everything for money?" Helm said indignantly.
   "John, I saw your advertisement," said Klara.
   "That was me a month ago. Too much has happened for me to be the same person. Look, why doesn't Makronotis do his own dirty work? Because he's worth a billion dollars and he doesn't have to. I didn't have the best part of two hundred thousand quid in various banks a month ago. I can hardly believe I've got it even now. But it means I can pick and choose what risks I take. Or it should mean that."
   "So why don't you walk away from me?"
   "You know when we first met? Ten whole days ago? You told me you'd been assigned to me. You know why? I bet Gladwin fed my details into a computer and asked for a match, like with a dating computer. That's why we get on so well together. And that's why I'm still here. You saw the advert. That's why you can believe me when I say we get out together or not at all."
   "Yeah, but..." A massive yawn stopped Klara.
   "I think we'd better continue this in the morning," said Helm with a matching yawn.
   "But we will continue it, John. So you reckon our flying start was thanks to the Gladwin Dating Agency?"
   "Stranger things have happened at sea. But not much, I'll bet."

Klara started sneezing while she was getting dressed, later that morning. Helm bought a large box of tissues when he shopped for breakfast, hoping that he would avoid her summer cold. After cheese on toast and coffee, they drove to Piraeus.
   The Mercedes had one of the any-day access stickers on the windscreen but Helm felt safer going into Athens on the bus. Klara had scraped her froth of brunette hair into a bun and covered it with a floppy sun hat. Her sunglasses and the tissue ever ready to catch a sneeze were a partial disguise.
   Helm had wanted to leave her at the flat but Klara felt safe only when they were together, and she wanted to go to a particular pharmacy in the city to buy a proprietory cold-control preparation, which looked a lot like Helm's iron capsules.
   Their next stop was the central post office. Helm used Bruce Dundee's driving licence as proof of identity and recovered the envelope containing his Australian passport.
   "If only your friend Mr. Morgenstern was still alive," said Klara as she flicked through the passport at a café. "The picture looks just like you, but there's something different about the face."
   "I was sucking my cheeks in so it would look like I've put on some weight since the photo was taken," Helm explained. "I'm supposed to have had the passport for a couple of years, not since last Tuesday. Hang about!"
   "I'm hanging," mumbled Klara between gushes into a tissue. She used a linen handkerchief to dab at streaming eyes. The capsule was taking its time about working.
   "All we have to do is get married."
   "I thought you weren't the marrying kind, John? And you hardly know me. Didn't your last relationship break up after eighteen months because you're not ready to get married? And that was only about three months ago."
   "What I mean is, all we have to do is put you in the passport in the spaces for my wife, as if we're a pair of cheapskates who've only got the one passport between us. Then we can disappear. Makronotis won't have his spies looking for a Mr. and Mrs. Dundee strolling out of the country."
   "You expect the Australian embassy to put me on this passport as your wife?"
   "No, I was planning to have it done privately. The way old Morgenstern got my details on what must have been a blank Australian passport."
   "You know someone who could do it?" said Klara cautiously, not daring to hope too much.
   "All the people who've done it for me in the past are dead. Pity."
   "John, you'll be in the same trouble as me if we disappear. Who'll square it with Mr. Makronotis? He'll send someone after us."
   "If it's the only chance you've got of getting out of here, we're going to take it," Helm said firmly. "And it's a big world and we've got the cash in my deposit box. Surely it'd be better to spend it than wait around here, being messed about for who knows how long? And do you really think I could live with myself if I walked away from you?"
   "You could try real hard," Klara suggested. "You don't have to be my knight in shining armour."
   "I didn't have to put that advert in the paper," Helm pointed out. "I didn't have to help to write off the kidnappers. Well, no, I had no choice about that. But I didn't have to help to write off the von Arlberg cryostore. If you're there, you just get caught up in these things. As I got caught up with you. Unless..."
   "What?" said Klara.
   "A wild idea," grinned Helm. "Let's get to the bank."
   Mr. Dundee was the day's first caller at the deposit vault. Helm cleared out his box while Klara tried not to stare at a wad of pictures of a dead president. On the way out of the vault, Helm got Klara to ask the attendant if he could make an urgent business call to Austria. He was shown to a quiet area of the main office. German-speaking Klara played the role of secretary to guide the call through the exchange at Schloß Arlberg to Eva's apartment.
   "I thought I had heard the last from you for some time," said Eva when Klara handed the receiver to Helm. He held it so that Klara could listen in on the call. "You have spent that five thousand dollars already?"
   "I've got a lot of expenses at the moment," said Helm.
   "And you want me to rush to Athens with more?"
   "That's up to you, darling. I enjoyed our lunch on Friday. And I'm going to be back at that café today, by coincidence."
   "I can bring no more than five thousand dollars."
   "Try real hard for ten," said Helm firmly.
   "I will meet you at the café at twelve-thirty," said Eva.
   "My God!" said Klara when Helm replaced the receiver. "I hope no one was listening to that. Using the bank's phone to blackmail someone."
   "Ah, but someone was listening. But at her end. If you knew Eva, you'd be able to read the hidden message. She hasn't told her old man she burned my blackmail evidence. He must be recording all calls to the castle. She also wanted an excuse to come to Athens."
   "Will she bring your ten grand?"
   "If she screws that much out of Daddy, it's strictly for her own benefit. The thing about Eva is she's always playing games. Remember – if she tells you something that makes you want to strangle me, just say, 'Oh, how interesting.' And let me do the talking. Don't let her get under your skin."
   Klara sneezed into a tissue by way of reply. Helm caught the eye of one of the bank's staff and paid for the call plus FPA, the Greek for VAT. They caught another bus back to Piraeus, reclaimed the car and headed west to Daphni on the coast to lie low. They had an hour and a half to kill before lunch with Eva von Arlberg.
   Eva, in a loose creation of yellow silk, had dressed up for the occasion. Klara, in jeans and a simple cotton blouse, looked as if she might have dressed down deliberately. Helm, in white trousers and a pale blue and white striped shirt, carried his white jacket so that he could flash his Makronotis organization cuff-links at the café's staff. The logo proved that he was a person of some standing in Athens.
   Eva complimented Klara on the practicality of her outfit, and asked her if she had been ill. The capsule had dried up Klara's runny nose but her eyes were still swollen. Helm told Eva that no one looks her best with a cold. Eva contradicted him with a superior smile. Klara got her own back with a display of faultless Greek, which became equally fluent German seamlessly when Eva addressed the waiter in her own language.
   "Did you bring my ten grand?" said Helm when the hors d'oeuvres had been delivered and the linguists had stopped showing off.
   "Daddy paid up like a lamb," beamed Eva. "He even let me use the Learjet to come here. It could not have worked out better. Remember your second present?" She glanced from her silver dragonfly to Klara's dolphin.
   "The jade statue?" said Helm, proving that he had no big secrets from Klara.
   "A dealer in Rome offered me eighty thousand dollars for it! You gave me the perfect excuse to come here to collect it. Flying home via Rome is about the same distance. All I need is a tall, dark man to go with me as a bodyguard."
   "What about one of the guys you took to Vaduz to kidnap me?"
   "Don't be silly, darling. They tell everything to Daddy. I have the jet at the airport. You could be back here by six o'clock."
   "Only one problem," smiled Helm. "Makronotis wants me to stand by for a special job in a few days' time. He's got our passports to get some visas. And to make sure we don't sneak off somewhere."
   Eva muttered something uncomplimentary in German. Klara looked shocked.
   "But there's a way we could work it," Helm said thoughtfully. "I've got a spare passport. If you've got a contact here who could put Klara on it as my wife, we could have a couple of days in Rome. It'd be nice to put one over on that old sod Makronotis."
   "Maybe the first time for a long time anyone did," said Klara.
   "I think I know someone who could do it for two or three hundred dollars," said Eva with a conspiratorial smile.
   "And you got ten thousand from Daddy," smiled Helm.
   "Order something for me, darling. I must telephone."
   "So what's this job you're doing for Mr. Makronotis?" Klara murmured suspiciously when they were alone.
   "We're playing a game, darling, remember?" Helm said patiently. "Don't believe a word either of us says. What would you recommend for a girl with a hearty appetite?"
   "A guillotine?" said Klara with a sweet smile.
   "Play the game, darling. We have to order something to impress her. Even if she won't admit it."
   Eva demolished her dish of spiced lamb in high spirits and went without a dessert to bring the meal to an early end. She drove the Mercedes to the Monastiraki district, covering the mile and a half twice as fast as Helm could have managed. Their destination was a souvenir shop full of plastic statues with a stone finish and fibreglass models of the Parthenon and other ancient structures.
   Eva and her party drifted through the tourists in the shop, and through a bead curtain at the back. They crossed a crowded storeroom to a trapdoor and descended steep, stone steps to a cellar room. A middle-aged man with short, blond hair like Dieter Erlich's bowed over Eva's hand and clicked his heels. They spoke in German. Helm kept an eye on Klara, watching in case she heard anything suspicious.
   Werner examined the Australian passport closely. He seemed satisfied with its quality. He let Klara comb out her hair, and he spent a long time fussing with lights before taking the photograph. He took the camera through a black door to his darkroom. Eva began to sort through a box of wartime postcards, looking for material to add to her collection of Nazibilia. Helm and Klara amused themselves by looking at her discards.
   The job took less than half an hour. When they saw the final result in their joint passport, Helm and Klara had to admit that Werner was a master craftsman. He had done wonders with Klara's eyes to eliminate the effects of her cold. Eva counted $500 onto the workbench to pay for the forgery and her postcards. Werner shook hands all round but only Eva received a bow and a click of his heels.
   "Second-generation Nazi," Eva remarked on the way back to the car. "Werner is a marvellous source of all sorts of documents from family archives and personal trinkets owned by important people. I had my Knight's Cross with diamonds from him."
   "I'm surprised he had the stamps for an Australian passport," said Helm.
   "There are a lot of Greeks in Australia now," said Klara. "I guess they have their share of illegal immigrants. It's a pretty big country. If you can get in, you can disappear easily enough."
   "Yes, I didn't think of that," said Helm.
   "Were are we going now, darling?" Eva cut across the other woman's point in the game of one-upmanship.
   "Klara had better have her hair trimmed so she doesn't look exactly like a passport photo that's supposed to be a couple of years old," said Helm. "And she needs a wedding ring. Our flat in Valaki's on the way to the airport. Let's move, girls."

The new Klara packed in minutes when they reached the flat. There was room in her largest case for Helm's suit carrier. Klara jumped into a dress while Helm was moving her cases to the car. She claimed his flight bag as her personal hand luggage. The von Arlberg Learjet was standing by, parked well away from the main passenger terminal and any spies watching for Helm and Klara.
   A uniformed steward served coffee as the jet reached cruising height. A video of a science fiction epic was just ending when the seat-belt light came on. The jet landed at Ciampino airport in preference to Leonardo da Vinci. The main international airport lies twice as far from Rome as Ciampino.
   After a relatively quick passage through customs and immigration, a car whisked Eva and her guest along the meandering New Appian Way to the old city wall. They followed a tram route along the Via Merulana to the Via Principe Amadeo. Mr. and Mrs. Dundee booked a suite at the four-star Hotel Mestre. Depositing $114,000 in the hotel safe convinced the receptionist that the artificial Australians were unlikely to sneak away without paying their bill.
   Leaving Klara unpacking, Helm returned to the car and his mission for Eva. He was wearing the jacket of his white suit and a pale blue tie with the von Arlberg crest, which Eva had given him on the family Learjet. Eva had the jade statuette in her capacious handbag, which the customs officer had neglected to examine. The hired car followed a trolley bus route along the Via Nationale, then it turned off down the Via Martius, where the élite shop lay.
   "Remember, darling, say nothing," Eva coached on the way. "I will speak to you in German. If I end with nicht wahr?, you will nod. If not, you will shake your head and say unmöglich. Than means impossible. You are very, very tough and you will accept only the price you want. Okay?"
   "Got it," nodded Helm. "No smiling, either?"
   "Look as if you watch everything and you will miss nothing."
   To Helm's surprise, Eva carried out her transaction in the open, in a corner of the shop. There was no hiding in a back room for her. Helm kept repeating unmöglich in his mind to be sure of the pronunciation. Part of him wanted to be nervous but a majority knew that the job was a piece of cake compared to what he had been required to do recently.
   Eva placed the jade statuette on a black velvet mat on a glass table and discussed it with a thin, middle-aged man with a centre parting in his thinning, black hair. The man seemed a lot more impressed by the statuette than Helm had ever been.
   Helm sat with his back to a display cabinet, keeping his eyes in constant motion, inspecting each arrival at the glass front doors and members of staff as they passed into and out of the security vault at the rear of the shop. He shook his head twice, making the gesture as abrupt as possible, and threw away the unmöglich as a muttered expression of contempt.
   There was a pleading note in Eva's voice before she gave him the cue to nod. Helm did so as grudgingly as possible. Eva left the shop with a handbag full of money. She made Helm a double millionaire in lire, saving him the trouble of changing a thousand-dollar bill into the local currency. The car took her straight to the airport.
   Helm waved goodbye to the Learjet, then he directed the car back to the Hotel Mestre. The driver asked if the bill should be sent to the hotel. Eva had scored again in her game by leaving Helm stuck with the bill for her transport. Helm surrendered to the inevitable and asked the driver to wait for him.
   Klara's calculator told him that his commission from Eva was worth about $1,400, less the bill for the car. Helm made Klara a lire-millionaire, exchanged brief but passionate goodbyes and dashed back to the car. Twenty minutes later, at Leonardo da Vinci airport, he gave the driver a tip of 25,000 lire without knowing exactly how much it was. He was just in time to obey the last call for the 17:00 hours flight to Athens. Klara had bought his ticket through the hotel. As his only luggage was a paperback book, he sailed through the security checks.
   Eva had promised to get him home by six o'clock. Helm parked his car at the rear staircase to his flat at one minute to seven. He had made good time, considering the side trip to have his Australian passport embellished and having to take a scheduled flight back to Greece. He realized that Eva hadn't asked him why he had telephoned her. She had been so involved in her own plots and plans that he had not needed to come up with a good reason for using her contacts with the illegal document trade.
   After a walk on the snowy beach to shake off the inactivity of a long flight, he went to the café for a solitary meal of grilled red mullet and bread studded with sesame seeds. He had become a regular man of action, he told himself. He and Klara had spent many hours discussing how to get her out of the country to safety. They had solved the problem very neatly in a few minutes by letting Eva think that she was using them.
   Another significant change was the way he reduced multi-zeroed foreign currencies to dollars rather than sterling to make them comprehensible – not that the numbers meant much even then. He could scarcely believe that Robert Helm and his girlfriend had been wandering around carrying over a hundred thousand dollars in cash.
   It was so wildly beyond his normal experience as to be incredible. So were all the schemes to save Klara for the rather selfish motive of being able to enjoy his last fling with her if the news from Phileros Makronotis became good but that from his doctor was bad. Lost in thought, he plodded up the stairs and let himself into the flat. Two men grabbed him as soon as he entered the studio area.
   Helm stopped struggling against impossible odds when he saw the ancient figure of Ianos Makronotis watching him from inside the bedroom. Tsai stepped into view, holding his white-leather shoulder holster.
   "If the gun is not under your pillow or on your person, it must be hidden in your car," said Ianos Makronotis.
   Helm shrugged as much as his captors would let him. "So what?" he said, not giving anything away.
   "Where is Miss Amercott?" The old man waved the bodyguards away with a outward flap of both hands and strutted over to Helm.
   "Out for a walk," said Helm.
   "Carrying four heavy suitcases for exercise?"
   "All right, I moved her."
   "You failed to telephone Miss Yuan-lin."
   "I said I'd phone her when I had anything to tell her."
   "You said you would telephone today."
   Helm looked at his watch. "It's now three minutes past eight in the evening so there's a lot of today left."
   "I think you had better come with us, Mr. Helm. So we can find out exactly what else you failed to tell us. Besides moving Miss Amercott."
   "You fancy giving me more of this?" Helm backed to the wall and raised his arms, as if strung up by his wrists. His smile was one of triumph rather than sarcasm. That morning, he had returned the pistol to the nail behind one of his paintings as an unlikely place to hide it.
   The responsibility of looking after a firearm had weighed heavily on him. Wearing it made him feel rather ridiculous. There had been no question of taking it on a trip to Italy and back, and he had been reluctant to leave it locked in the car in case someone stole the car from the airport parking area.
   Ianos Makronotis smiled at him, creating a million wrinkles. "The last time, you were sensible enough to talk before I had to resort to unpleasantness. Put your hands down, Mr. Helm."
   Helm lowered his arms in a wide arc. His right hand disappeared behind the painting – and reappeared holding a pistol. He saw one of the bodyguards throw his head back and stare in open-mouthed appreciation of the conjuring trick. He had enough time to bring his hands together to work the slide. He stepped forward to plant the muzzle firmly against Ianos Makronotis' forehead. The desperation in the old man's eyes was a disturbing sight but he was the cause of the confrontation, Helm reminded himself.
   Something clicked in the bedroom.
   "Put gun down, Johnny," said Tsai. "Got you covered."
   "The impact of a bullet will make me pull the trigger," said Helm, fighting to keep his voice level. "If I don't decide to do it anyway, just for the hell of it."
   "No need to die, Johnny."
   "The same applies to you, Tsai," Helm said with a lot more confidence than he felt. "Right now, I'm wondering how you're going to explain to your boss how you got his uncle killed. And what he'll do to you. I think this is what you'd call a Mexican stand-off. You can't shoot me without killing everyone in the flat. Including yourself."

Previous ChapterF&F BOOKSNext Chapter

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