JUST WHEN HELM WAS ON the point of surrendering, Tsai lifted the muzzle of her pistol and lowered the hammer. Her right hand disappeared round to the back of her light, cotton jacket. It returned empty.
"What now, Johnny?"
"One thing you ought to know, chum," Helm told Ianos Makronotis, "I've arranged some insurance. Three letters in the post, addressed to me at friends' homes. If I turn up dead, or I disappear, they'll make interesting reading. The fourth goes to Eva von Arlberg if I don't make regular phone calls and use the right code phrases. You know what that means."
"Your word against Phileros Makronotis?" sneered his uncle.
"Enough solid facts to cause him a lot of embarrassment. Which the von Arlbergs will enjoy giving him."
"So what do you want?"
"I want our passports, mine and Klara Amercott's. And I want to be left alone. I'm still looking for the missing vanload of stuff. If you don't get it back, it'll be because I can't find it, not because I've stolen it. But if you and your pals come round again making threats, I'll string you up on a wall first chance I get and see how you bloody well like it. Got that?"
"How much time are you asking Philo for? One day? Two?"
"As much time as it takes to run down my leads. I'm not setting any dead-lines. Now, get out of here before I blow your kneecaps off. And take your pals with you."
Helm backed away from the old man, keeping the gun trained on his head. The bodyguards quickly formed a protective Ianos Makronotis sandwich. Helm watched from the staircase as a big, black Mercedes saloon drove away.
"I go too?" said Tsai uncertainly.
Helm shrugged, then he lowered the hammer of his pistol, trying not to look too relieved. "Suit yourself. You and I are still on the same side, aren't we? Nous sommes les bons types."
"Quoi?" frowned Tsai.
"We're the good guys."
"D'accord!" laughed Tsai. "Toujours les bon types. Puis-j' téléphoner?"
"Help yourself. Fancy a drink?"
Helm poured two measures of Metaxas brandy, emptying the bottle, and put one glass on the telephone table. Tsai had switched from fluent French to basic Greek. Helm let the brandy burn a fiery trail down to his stomach. Loaded guns made him nervous. When he handled one, he was always afraid that he would pull the trigger by mistake and shoot someone someone who didn't deserve it.
Being honest with himself, however, he had quite enjoyed threatening Ianos Makronotis. He had derived an almost perverted pleasure from watching the old man in fear of losing a few years from a long life. And he refused to feel ashamed. Ianos Makronotis deserved every moment of his terror, and more, for hanging Klara up on a wall.
Tsai finished her call. "Boss say okay to leave you alone if I stay with you. Watch for double cross. Okay?"
"I suppose you'd end up lurking nearby if I say it's not okay," said Helm. "And it means I can keep an eye on you if you stay here. What made you back down just now?"
"Professional judgement. First time we meet, you not shoot, Today, maybe. But not if no danger. So I take away danger. Take away my gun. Like I say, you not shoot first, Johnny. But you good poker player now. Look like you shoot now. Maybe give old Ianos heart attack."
"You mean, you've got me all worked out?"
"Pretty good. So what leads you got?"
"Oh, no, you don't," laughed Helm. "We might be on the same side but we both know anything I tell you goes straight to the boss. I'm not giving him a chance to squeeze me out. Not just for myself. I'm thinking of Klara."
"I work that out," nodded Tsai.
"I tell you what, I bloody well hope old Ianos does come back. I'd love to hang him up on a wall like one of my paintings."
"Ianos not get old by risking life. Scared of you now. Not go near you again to save kneecaps."
"Funny how these things pop into your mind." Helm dropped onto one of the canvas chairs and drained his glass. "That's what that old sod Morgenstern threatened me with to persuade me to talk. And the guy he gave his orders to looked like he'd really enjoy breaking mine."
"Guy blown up with clinic? And Adolf Hitler?" Tsai settled on the other canvas chair but she looked ready to leap to her feet.
"Right. I can't say I'm sorry he came to a sticky end. I think there's a lot to be said for letting those who live by the gun get blown up."
"Big bang for us too?"
"Not for us good guys. The difference between us and the likes of Avvi is we don't start the trouble. We only pick up our guns when the bad guys try to take violent short cuts. Look at Gladwin. He'd be alive today, and maybe three million dollars richer, if he hadn't tried to sew everything up by killing you and blaming it on me."
"You like him?"
"I shouldn't after the way he kept messing me about, but I have to admit a grudging admiration for someone who could tell me a different set of lies every time the wind changed and look as if he believed them every time. I think I liked his life more than the man himself. Zooming round the world, playing silly buggers with mugs like me."
"So what you do now?"
"Right now?" said Helm. "At eight-fifteen on a Monday night? I'm going to sit and read a book and let my dinner go down. And hope the shock I've just had doesn't give me indigestion. Or have you got two tickets to a show?"
"If you stay here, I go to hotel, pack bag."
"Hoping I don't sneak away while you're gone?" grinned Helm.
"Maybe bring passports," Tsai told him with a winning smile.
"That's an improvement," laughed Helm. "You'll get a hell of a lot more co-operation from bribing me than shoving a gun in my ribs and chaining me to something big and handy."
Tsai was lying in the hammock, reading the previous day's Le Monde, when Helm got up on Tuesday morning. They had boiled eggs, toast and coffee for breakfast. Then Helm faced up to the major problem of the day. Tsai had returned the previous evening with the passports and a message of confidence from Phileros Makronotis. Helm had been able to read an ominous 'or else' into it. His problem was that he had no leads and no ideas for places to look for leads.
He did the washing up and tidied the flat, putting off the evil hour. Tsai went back to her newspaper. Helm could tell that she was waiting for him to do something. When he decided to go out for a drive, Tsai settled in the front passenger seat and waited to see where he would take her.
Helm thought about going to Koropi, where he had seen the vanload of treasure last. He headed instead for Piraeus, hoping that a wander round in the sea air would blow inspiration into him. An idea did arrive as he reached the port. He kept going and took the turn-off to the right, towards Athens.
Tsai accompanied him to the main post office. Helm headed for the poste restante section. That was where he had hidden vital documents. It was a good bet for Gladwin's secrets.
"We come here," said Tsai. "Nothing for Gladwin. Or Lane."
"Kirios Bateman?" Helm said to the woman at the counter.
He wrote the name in Latin characters on a scrap of paper and handed it to her. The woman returned with a manilla envelope of the size used to send bills. When she said something in Greek, Helm held his Irish passport up to his face and pointed to the picture to prove that he was the same person. There were people on either side of him, staring impatiently at the woman. She accepted the proof of identity and handed over the letter.
"This is what he called himself in London," Helm said to Tsai when they were away from the scrum at the counter. He found three telephone numbers one local, one in Piraeus and the number of his flat in Valaki on a sheet of ruled paper in the envelope. He assumed that the Piraeus number belonged to the garage, where he had collected the Fiat Uno. on his arrival in Greece.
A male voice answered when he placed a call to the local number from a bank of public telephones. Tsai had joined him in the square cubicle.
"I'm calling for Mr. Lane, who's also Bateman," said Helm.
"Yeah? Who are you?" The voice had an American accent.
"This is John Scott. Is that Alex?"
"Do I know you?"
"You picked me up in a car once. And again a couple of days later in a helicopter. Remember?"
"Okay, the thing is, Mr. Lane wants you to deliver the goods you've been holding for him. As soon as possible. And I guess I'm suppose to pay you."
"A flat in Valaki. You've been there before. Pordi Street, number twenty-seven, first floor. I'll expect you in an hour, okay?"
Alex muttered to himself in Greek as he wrote down the address. "And we get paid there?"
"I'm just off to the bank now to get some cash."
"Okay. One hour. See you."
"How come you know this Alex?" said Tsai suspiciously when Helm had replaced the receiver.
"He and his mate threw a dead donkey at us. Remember?"
"Oh, that Alex!"
"And they think you're dead, so you'd better not be in the flat when they arrive, okay?"
"Watch from café."
"Are you going to apologize to me for suspecting me of a double cross? Are you thoroughly ashamed of yourself?"
"No," grinned Tsai. "Dead easy in end."
"All the hardest problems have dead easy solutions when you've thought of them," Helm said wisely.
They drove back to Valaki via Elousis Square, where Tsai collected a copy of Tuesday's Le Monde, and then the offices of a bonded courier service, which felt able to guarantee same-day delivery of an envelope containing Klara Amercott's passport to Mrs. Angeline Dundee in Rome.
Helm went into the Hotel Renga with Tsai to make sure that she had no opportunity to pass on any messages about his plans. He realized the futility of the gesture when she headed down Pordi Street in Valaki to the café. Tsai could make any number of telephone calls while she was out of sight in the café and he was waiting in his flat.
Alex and Yani turned up after twenty minutes. They gasped their way up the stairs twice. Gladwin had transferred his loot to two large, steel-lined trunks. They were what Helm would call body-trunks big enough to take a corpse away from the scene of a murder. The delivery men sagged onto a trunk apiece to get their breath back. Alex's black moustache drooped soggily. Yani's designer T-shirt looked as if it could do with wringing out.
Helm gave them cans of chilled Heineken from his fridge and let them see that he was wearing a pistol in a shoulder holster under his anorak. He was trying to create an impression of toughness, hoping that the weapon would make them more nervous than him.
"Lane said we get two hundred and fifty thousand drachmas," said Alex, lowering his empty can of lager.
Helm used a pocket calculator. Paying $1,700 for storing two trunks for three days was pure extortion. "You sure it wasn't twenty-five thousand?"
Yani's guilty expression confirmed that he had hit the mark.
"How about a bonus for getting here quick?" said Alex.
Helm offered him six $50 bills. "I haven't got too much Greek money. Is this okay for you?"
"I guess so," said Alex. "What's in these?"
"I think he said a couple of computers and printers he got cheap," said Helm. He had spent some time wondering what sort of moderately valuable items a security advisor would want to store. The reply seemed to satisfy Alex and Yani. They headed back to their van, taking fresh cans of lager with them.
Helm watched them drive away, then he returned to the steel trunks. Scratches around the locks suggested that the custodians had been interested in the contents, but they had failed to discovering that what they had been storing was worth nearly two million dollars.
The door opened behind him. Helm assumed that Tsai had arrived for a look at the trunks. He remained on his knees in front of one of them. The next thing he knew, someone was pushing a gun into his right ear.
Graf Maximillian von Arlberg, wearing a white Panama hat on his grey head, entered the flat when Helm had been relieved of his pistol by one of the count's beefy retainers. Two more followed their master into the studio. One held Tsai's right arm in restraining grip.
"Good morning, Mr. Scott." The count fanned himself with his hat. The temperature in his part of Austria was a warm 20o Centigrade. It was 10o hotter just to the south of Athens.
"Morning, your Lordship," said Helm. "Is this where someone gets hung up on a wall?"
"You seem to lack the facilities," smiled the count. "But no doubt we can devise another method to teach you not to blackmail my daughter. Perhaps the loss of a few fingernails will be instructive."
Graf von Arlberg took a stroll around the flat, visiting each room. Then he stopped in front of the five paintings on the display rails in the studio and examined them closely. "Unsigned. Pity," he remarked to himself. "But the style and the technique stand out nevertheless." Then he seemed to rediscover the prisoners. He pointed to the hammock and issued orders in German.
Helm and Tsai were made to sit sideways on the hammock. A retainer bound Helm's left wrist to Tsai's right with one of the plastic loops used by American cops for immobilizing the hands of drug-dealers during street arrests. Another white plastic strip fastened Tsai's left wrist to the netting of the hammock. They had to sit in an unnatural crouch to remain upright. They felt in constant danger of tipping over backwards.
One of the count's retainers took out a chunky cigarette case and knelt in front of one of the steel trunks. He had a set of lock-picks behind a sliding panel.
"How did they sneak up on you?" Helm asked Tsai to take his mind off how painful it would be to have fingernails ripped off.
"The young lady is rather distinctive," said the count. "How often does one see a Chinese woman sitting in a Greek café reading a French newspaper? And her loyalty to you was most touching, Mr. Scott. She made no fuss when I gave my word not to damage you terminally."
"I appreciate that," said Helm. "I prefer not to be damaged terminally." Nobody else knew that his remark was heavily ironic.
The telephone began to ring as the first trunk surrendered its secrets. Graf von Arlberg shook his head when one of his men made to pick up the receiver. The count himself lifted the flat lid of the trunk, which was full of polystyrene spaghetti. The count plunged his hands into the lucky dip. Spilling white wriggles onto the well-worn carpet, he drew out a length of grey plastic drainpipe. It contained a rolled painting. The count hummed a happy tune over an uninspiring landscape. Then he held it up for Helm's inspection.
"See what you could have had, Mr. Scott? This painting alone must be worth one hundred thousand dollars."
"I think it's dreadful," said Helm. "I wouldn't give you a fiver for it."
"My God! I think you are serious," laughed the count.
"I know rubbish when I see it," said Helm.
"You have the soul of an art dealer, Mr. Scott. You have no feeling for the aesthetic value of a work. You would not let a desire to collect a work get in the way of making a profit out of it. But I see your taste, displayed on your walls, is more modern."
"Those are what I call pictures with a touch of class," Helm said modestly.
"Someone put note under door," said Tsai.
"The count frowned incomprehension at her.
"She's right," said Helm. "Someone just shoved a note under the door."
One of his men brought the note to the count. He visited each window in turn and saw tall men lounging all around the building, as if waiting for opening time. The count cast a last, longing look at the two trunks, then he moved one of the canvas chairs to command the room and sat down. One of his men opened the door to the staircase in response to an imperious nod.
Craven Kaiser, Tsai's boss, entered the studio first, followed by Dieter Erlich, the local security advisor, and then Phileros Makronotis. Helm sagged with relief his fingernails were safe - and almost lost his balance on the hammock.
Kaiser checked that the other rooms were empty before he holstered his pistol. Erlich moved the other canvas chair to the vicinity of the trunks. Makronotis sat down. It was rather a tight squeeze but he managed it with dignity. He faced the count like an emperor greeting a visiting prince.
"Your man has been blackmailing my daughter," said Graf von Arlberg. "I came here to stop him."
"Mr. Scott," said Makronotis. "You must refrain from blackmailing people. It is illegal."
"So's threatening people and tying them up." said Helm.
Kaiser used the scissors on his Swiss army knife to cut through the plastic ties to free the prisoners.
"Why were you blackmailing the young lady?" Makronotis said severely.
"Because she got the money from Daddy, who wanted me to blow up his cryostore so he could collect on the insurance but didn't want to pay me anything for risking my neck."
"Defaulting on payment does not inspire loyalty," Makronotis told the count with equal severity. "But perhaps I had better take charge of Mr. Scott's evidence to make sure that he desists. How much did Maximillian agree to pay you, Mr. Scott?"
"We never got past the threats of what he'd do if I didn't help him."
"What would you consider a fair price?"
"Four of the chairs in that room where we had the German champagne."
"Impossible," said the count. "They are part of a set."
"Unmöglich is not a word in my vocabulary," said Helm.
"I would say the fee is extremely reasonable," said Makronotis. "Have them delivered to my agent in London, and I shall arrange delivery to Mr. Scott's home. Will you be staying in Athens for lunch?"
"I have other business here," nodded the count, conceding defeat on the chairs. "Including a working lunch."
"In that case, we need not detain you," said Makronotis.
Graf von Arlberg rose smoothly to his considerable height and delivered a stiff bow with a click of heels. One of his retainers took Helm's pistol from his pocket, holding it by the barrel. He placed it on the unopened trunk, taking care not to point it at Makronotis. Another man did the same with Tsai's pistol. Von Arlberg led his three bodyguards out of the flat.
The Imperial Guard was dispersing, its work of intimidation completed. Four giants remained behind with a large van. Graf von Arlberg's car headed for Athens as part of a convoy with the rest of the Imperial Guardsmen.
Makronotis showed off his treasures to the company as he unwrapped them. Helm pretended to share the general euphoria but his private opinion remained that most of the collection was junk. He did like one or two pieces, however, proving that he wasn't a complete Philistine. There was a briefcase at the bottom of the second trunk. Makronotis counted the bundles of notes. He looked at Tsai when he reached ninety and the briefcase was empty.
Tsai shook her head. "No way Johnny got rest, sir."
Helm realized that Maximillian, Graf von Arlberg, wasn't the only fabulously rich miser around. Makronotis' sceptical frown suggested that he believed that Helm had got his hands on the missing $100,000. A quick calculation told Helm that the missing cash meant as much to a billionaire as ten quid mattered to someone with his own bank balance. The comparison put quite a different slant on his gift of a statuette worth $80,000 to Eva von Arlberg.
"Gladwin must have spent the missing hundred grand buying his million bucks of forgeries," Helm realized suddenly. "That's where it went."
"Obviously," said Erlich.
"Is it?" said Helm sceptically. "Where would he get it at such short notice?"
"Mafia contacts in Palermo," said Erlich in the same patient tone. "It's only an hour away by Learjet."
"Oh!" said Helm, educated even more in the nastier aspects of Gladwin's devious life. A man with Gladwin's lack of scruples obviously had contacts with organized crime.
"You realize your finder's fee depends on the value of goods recovered, not the goods lost?" said Makronotis.
"I can trust a man of honour to give us a fair deal." Helm looked at Tsai.
"As my employee, Miss Yuan-lin is aware that she is not eligible for a finder's fee."
Helm just shrugged. He had learned that stealth, not argument, is often the best way to redress injustice.
The landlady arrived to find out what was happening in her flat. Helm knew that it was pure nosiness rather than genuine concern. She did nothing about the loud parties in the ground-floor flat.
The landlady swung from horror at the sight of white worms all over the floor to confusion when she recognized Phileros Makronotis. Helm wondered if she would curtsey. Makronotis sent her on her way with a smile, a kind word and a contribution from Kaiser to the cleaning costs.
Helm and what was left of his luggage joined the procession back to the Hotel Renga. Tsai escorted him to the conference room for a final debriefing. The common conclusion was that Gladwin had handed his loot over to Alex and Yani in Koropi during his fairly brief absence from the storage shed.
"An assessor is calculating the exact value of the recovered items to determine your finder's fee," said Makronotis when Helm ran out of things to tell him. "We seem to have acquired five unsigned paintings in the style of Mondrian, which are not on my inventory."
"I did those," said Helm. "As part of my cover in Valaki. I was pretending to be an artist."
"Would you consider selling them?"
"You can have them for free if you like them," said Helm, flattered.
Makronotis smiled. "They created some amusing confusion among the experts. They would be an interesting souvenir. I accept your gift with thanks. One thing more my foster father mentioned certain letters you have written."
"I think we agreed blackmail is illegal," said Helm. "And unnecessary when people deal honourably with each other. Can we also agree Klara Amercott was working with me, and no further action need be taken?"
"A gentleman's agreement?" Makronotis offered a large hand across the conference table.
Helm had to rise out of his chair slightly to shake it. There was no doubt as to who was the senior partner in the agreement.
"And the documents you were using to blackmail Eva von Arlberg? Where are they?" Makronotis added.
"Eva put some notes on the plan of the cryostore, showing the best places to put bombs to demolish it. In her own writing. But we burned the plan last Friday. It was part of a game we were playing who could give the other the biggest shock. I reckon I won with that plan. But I was never, ever blackmailing her," Helm added firmly. "That's not my style."
"Then why does her father think you were?"
"Because he's an old miser and Eva's got expensive tastes. And I reckon she enjoyed screwing the money out of him. Strictly for her own benefit."
"I see. I think that covers everything for the moment, Mr. Helm." Phileros Makronotis nodded a dismissal.
One of the Imperial Guardsmen took Helm to room 322, where a valet had unpacked his possessions. Clearly, he was not yet free to go. When he had changed into his white suit, Tsai whisked him down to the car park to reclaim the Mercedes. They were off for lunch in Corinth.
Roger Gladwin's fatal boating accident was an accepted part of history. The lack of a body to bury was nothing unusual. Helm had to play the part of an English cousin, who had arrived to settle Gladwin's affairs. Makronotis was still hoping that some or all of the missing $100,000 would turn up, along with anything else that Gladwin had salted away.
Tsai had a notebook full of coded entries places to look for Gladwin's secrets when she drove Helm to Athens airport on Wednesday morning. Helm was flying home via Rome and Zürich. He was wearing his white suit, with the jacket draped across his cabin bag and his cashmere pullover standing by for the frigid wastes of Kent in summer. Helm took a gift box covered in gold foil from his cabin bag while he was waiting for his flight to board. "Open it carefully. Don't let everyone see what's in it," he warned as he handed it Tsai
Tsai's mouth formed an 'O' of surprise when she saw the wad of thousand dollar bills.
"That's your half of the finder's fee for the briefcase," Helm told her. "Let's not pretend you haven't earned it. The other is a prize for the only person who played things absolutely straight with me over the last fortnight."
"It's lovely, Robert." Tsai looked properly impressed by the $5,000 diamond bracelet in the velvet presentation case.
Helm had been the jeweller's first serious customer of the day. He had enjoyed spending such an enormous sum, in his terms, even more than the jeweller had enjoyed receiving it. Tsai made him promise to let her know the result of his body scan. Helm felt unsettled by that intrusion of real life into his last minutes in Greece.
He ignored the chief steward when she began the usual pre-flight briefing on the airliner. He knew all about oxygen masks, and if the airliner crashed into the Ionian Sea, he had no illusions about surviving to need a life jacket. All that he could think about was whether Klara was still in Rome.
Tsai had kept him in Corinth for the rest of Tuesday meeting people, searching Gladwin's office and home and reading through his records. There had been no opportunity to use a telephone privately. They had arrived back in Athens by car just after midnight. Helm had been unwilling to call Klara from the Hotel Renga in case one of the security staff listened in. His only other trip out of the hotel on Wednesday morning had been to the jeweller's shop at the southern end of Elousis Square, and Tsai had hovered outside, waiting for him.
There was a chance that Klara had decided to run as soon as the courier delivered her passport. Knowing the scope and power of the Makronotis organization, she might have felt unsafe a mere 700 miles from Athens.
If so, Helm felt that she was welcome to the $114,000 in the hotel safe. Making lots of money very quickly, if not exactly easily, gave him little sense of real ownership. Being able to write off such a huge amount felt strange, but it had been a strange month.
Helm's flight touched down five minutes early at Leonardo da Vinci airport. Hand luggage only meant no delay, hanging around for the airliner's baggage compartment to be unloaded. An immigration officer asked him how long he would be in Italy. Helm replied, "An hour and twenty minutes," and showed him a ticket for the two o'clock flight to Zürich.
He chose a sad-looking, middle-aged taxi driver in the hope that he might not drive as if he hoped to be spotted by the Ferrari Formula One team boss. His driver had a sound sense of self-preservation. They had a few near-hits but they reached the Hotel Mestre with no new dents. The driver surprised Helm by choosing to be paid in drachmas rather than dollars or sterling.
Helm experienced an enormous wave of relief when the receptionist told him that Signora Dundee was in their room. He had been putting off contacting Klara in case she had disappeared.
He asked for their bill to be prepared, then he dashed for the lift. Klara looked as if she was seeing a ghost when she opened the door of their suite.
"Close your mouth, Angeline, you'll get it full of mozzies," grinned Helm, attempting an Australian accent.
"I was really worried when I got your note," said Klara.
"Why? I thought it was quite cheerful."
"When you said you got my passport by pulling a gun on old Ianos, I couldn't see any way you'd get out of Greece alive if they caught you. Then I heard about Gladwin's accident on the radio. I've been hanging on every bulletin since then, waiting to hear an Irishman called John Scott had the same sort of accident."
"We came to a gentleman's agreement, your ex-boss and I. No grudges, no blackmail, no reprisals against you. And look at all this Monopoly money I got. Thousand-dollar bills. Two hundred and fifty of them. Doesn't look real, does it?"
"So you found Gladwin's buried treasure?"
"Most of it. I'll tell you all about it on the way to the airport. I was able to get you on the flights I booked. We've got an hour to pack, check out here and get to the airport to check in there."
Helm enjoyed his airport lunch of chicken risotto, and another hour in the air. His enjoyment was a product of the company and relief at being able to go home rich and undamaged. The two-hour stop-over in Zürich gave him time enough to take Klara into the city to open two accounts at a leading bank. He used Phileros Makronotis' carte blanche as his reference, and drank a cup of excellent coffee while the director summoned his own Greek translator to read the note above a familiar signature.
Helm and Klara flew on to London with just $10,000 apiece for living expenses. Helm had no sense of travelling with a huge sum in his money belt. The ten United States notes were lost in a wad of European money, which was long on zeros and short on real value.
Immigration control at Gatwick separated them briefly. Klara was travelling on her own passport, which made her an alien from the planet America. John Scott, a citizen of the Irish Republic, passed through the gate for members of the European club, hoping that no suspicious Special Branch agents would take an interest in him. A man travelling on an irregular passport, arriving from Zürich with another passport in another name and a fair sum in assorted currencies, was liable to be arrested as a suspected IRA paymaster.
The taxi driver at the head of the rank didn't want to go to Maidstone. Helm suspected that it was a bargaining tactic to push up the price. He turned his back and asked the next man in line how he fancied the job. Helm's impression of a man who didn't mess about produced instant co-operation. The driver even helped to carry Klara's cases when they reached Helm's home and earned himself an over-generous tip.
It was half past nine on a dark, damp September evening, and they were hungry again. Helm put the central heating on at full blast before they went out in search of food. Klara chose traditional English fish and chips from the variety of takeaways on offer.
Helm bought a bottle of champagne on the way home, which offended the lady on duty in the off-licence. Nobody, she seemed to think, should be allowed to spend £38 on one bottle of wine. She became less indignant when she added Klara's shiny, new wedding ring to Helm's white suit and two foreign tans, and arrived at a couple just back from their honeymoon.
Very little mail had accumulated since his last trip home. Helm realized that he had been away for little more than a long weekend. The chance to win a Ford Orion didn't tempt him in the least. His bank statement showed a balance of just over £500. A month earlier, he would have considered himself quite well off. Now, the sum was just the equivalent of the half-million lire in his money belt and quite insignificant.
One of the newspapers had posted on a couple of late offers to his box number in their publication. The first sounded positively criminal but the second was quite interesting. A stuntman working for a film company had been injured in an unrelated car crash. The company was looking for a stand-in willing to sit tight and let them demolish a set around him. The price offered was $65,000 plus travelling expenses. There was no mention of medical insurance.
Envelope number four contained a note from Dr. Bennett, delivered by hand, asking Helm to make an appointment to hear the results of his body scan and the second set of blood tests. He still had to face the question of whether he was about to be assassinated by his own body.
Given a free choice, his instinct was to take the next flight to the film location in Arizona. He couldn't leave right away, however. He was expecting the London agent of the Makronotis organization to deliver four von Arlberg chairs the next morning. He was sure that a mere millionaire wouldn't dare say no to a billionare.
Klara's reaction to the note from his doctor was optimism - that he would receive either a clean bill of health or that early treatment would lead to an early cure. Helm knew that he would be in for a good talking-to if he looked like ducking out of a visit to the health centre.
Mutual concern had come out of shared danger. How long it would last remained to be seen. Helm felt that there was a danger that Klara would become bored with him when their life slowed down to a normal place or a pace normal for pre-terminal Robert Helm but he knew that his fear could be reflex self-doubt. The time had come for a more positive approach to life now that he could afford a lot of jet-setting.
The risks of the last month had been all about preparing for the worst. He had enough money now for the wildest farewell, or the longest life with prudent investment on top of more pedestrian earnings. The money had created its own intoxication. He could only hope that he and Klara would stay together when they both sobered up.
But whatever happened, he felt sure that he could handle it. Robert Helm, disguised as John Albert Scott and Bruce Dundee, had been to the sharp end of life, where billionaires live and their employees can be attacked with guns and knives at any time.
He had broken enough laws to keep Klara in permanent employment defending him if the police of half of Europe ever stumbled across his trail. Good sense told him that it was time to retire from the active life of a terminal man. But whether his retirement was permanent or temporary depended very much on whether Dr. Bennett had good or bad news for him.
Whatever the next few days had in store for him, Robert Helm knew that the time had come to enjoy spending some of his earnings and to find out just how seriously Mrs. Angeline Dundee took her 25,000 drachma wedding ring.