The last few days were spent in a flurry of meetings, with the Chief of Staff presiding, at Headquarters. The main decisions were that Bond should go to the meeting with Blofeld absolutely 'clean'. He would carry no weapons, no secret gear of any kind, and he would not be watched or followed by the Service in any way. He would communicate only with Sable Basilisk, getting across such information as he could by using heraldic double talk (Sable Basilisk had been cleared by MI5 immediately after Bond's first meeting with him), and Sable Basilisk, who vaguely thought that Bond was employed by the Ministry of Defence, would be given a cut-out at the Ministry who would be his go-between with the Service. This was all assuming that Bond managed to stay close to Blofeld for at least a matter of days. And that was to be his basic stratagem. It was essential to find out as much as possible about Blofeld, his activities and his associates, in order to proceed with planning the next step, his abduction from Switzerland. Physical action might not be necessary. Bond might be able to trick the man into a visit to Germany, as a result of a report which Sable Basilisk had prepared of certain Blofeld family documents at the Augsburg Zentral Archiv, which would need Blofeld's personal identification. Security precautions would include keeping Station Z completely in the dark about Bond's mission to Switzerland and a closure of the 'Bedlam' file at Headquarters which would be announced in the routine 'Orders of the Day'. Instead, a new code-word for the operation, known only to an essential handful of senior officers, would be issued. It would be 'CORONA'.

Finally, the personal dangers to Bond himself were discussed. There was total respect for Blofeld at Headquarters. Nobody questioned his abilities or his ruthlessness. If Bond's true identity somehow became known to Blofeld, Bond would of course instantly be liquidated. A more dangerous and likely event would be that, once Blofeld had probed Bond's heraldic gen to its rather shallow bottom and it had been proved that he was or was not the Comte de Bleuville, Sir Hilary Bray, his usefulness expended, might 'meet with an accident'. Bond would just have to face up to these hazards and watch out particularly for the latter. He, and Sable Basilisk behind him, would have to keep some tricks up their sleeves, tricks that would somehow make Sir Hilary Bray's continued existence important to Blofeld. In conclusion, the Chief of Staff said he considered the whole operation 'a lot of bezants' and that 'Bezants' would have been a better code-word than 'Corona'. However, he wished Bond the best of luck and said, cold-heartedly, that he would instruct the Technical Section to proceed forthwith with the devising of a consignment of explosive snowballs for Bond's protection.

It was on this cheery note that Bond, on the evening of December 21st, returned to his office for a last run-through of his documentation with Mary Goodnight.

He sat sideways to his desk, looking out over the triste winter twilight of Regent's Park under snow, while she sat opposite him and ran through the items: 'Burke's Extinct and Dormant Baronetage, property of the College of Heralds. Stamped “Not to be removed from the Library”. The printed Visitations in the College of Arms, stamped ditto. Genealogist's Guide, by G. W. Marshall, with Hatchard's receipted bill to Sable Basilisk inserted. Bur he's General Armory, stamped “Property of the London Library”, wrapped and franked December 10th. Passport in the name of Sir Hilary Bray, containing various recently-dated frontier stamps in and out of France, Germany, and the Low Countries, fairly well used and dog-eared. One large file of correspondence with Augsburg and Zurich on College of Arms writing-paper and the writing-paper of the addressees. And that's the lot. You've fixed your laundry tags and so on?'

'Yes,' said Bond dully. 'I've fixed all that. And I've got two new suits with cuffs and double vents at the back and four buttons down the front. Also a gold watch and chain with the Bray seal. Quite the little baronet.' Bond turned and looked across the desk at Mary Goodnight. 'What do you think of this caper, Mary? Think it'll come off?'

'Well, it should do,' she said staunchly. 'With all the trouble that's been taken. But' - she hesitated - 'I don't like you taking this man on without a gun.' She waved a hand at the pile on the floor. 'And all these stupid books about heraldry! It's just not you. You will take care, won't you?'

'Oh, I'll do that all right,' said Bond reassuringly. 'Now, be a good girl and get a radio taxi to the Universal Export entrance. And put all that junk inside it, would you? I'll be down in a minute. I'll be at the flat all this evening' - he smiled sourly - 'packing my silk shirts with the crests on them.' He got up. 'So long, Mary. Or rather goodnight, Goodnight. And keep out of trouble till I get back.'

She said, 'You do that yourself.' She bent and picked up the books and papers from the floor and, keeping her face hidden from Bond, went to the door and kicked it shut behind her with her heel. A moment or two later she opened the door again. Her eyes were bright. I'm sorry, James. Good luck! And Happy Christmas!' She closed the door softly behind her.

Bond looked at the blank face of the Office of Works cream door. What a dear girl Mary was! But now there was Tracy. He would be near her in Switzerland. It was time to make contact again. He had been missing her, wondering about her. There had been three non-committal but cheerful postcards from the Clinique de 1'Aube at Davos. Bond had made inquiries and had ascertained that this was run by a Professor Auguste Kommer, President of the Societé Psychia-trique et Psychologique Suisse. Over the telephone, Sir James Molony, the nerve specialist by appointment to the Service, had told Bond that Kommer was one of the top men in the world at his job. Bond had written affectionately and encouragingly to Tracy and had had the letters posted from America. He had said he would be home soon and would be in touch with her. Would he? And what would he do then? Bond had a luxurious moment feeling sorry for himself, for the miscellaneous burdens he was carrying alone. He then crushed out his cigarette and, banging doors behind him, got the hell out of his office and down in the lift to the discreet side-entrance that said 'Universal Export'.

The taxi was waiting. It was seven o'clock. As the taxi got under way, Bond made his plan for the evening. He would first do an extremely careful packing job of his single suitcase, the one that had no tricks to it, have two double vodkas and tonics with a dash of Angostura, eat a large dish of May's speciality - scrambled eggs fines herbes - have two more vodkas and tonics, and then, slightly drunk, go to bed with half a grain of second.

Encouraged by the prospect of this cosy self-anaesthesia, Bond brusquely kicked his problems under the carpet of his consciousness.

9

Irma La Not So Douce

THE NEXT day, at London Airport, James Bond, bowler hat, rolled umbrella, neatly folded Times and all, felt faintly ridiculous. He felt totally so when he was treated with the deference due to his title and shown into the VIP lounge before take-off. At the ticket desk, when he had been addressed as Sir Hilary, he had looked behind him to see who the girl was talking to. He really must pull himself together and damn well be Sir Hilary Bray!

Bond had a double brandy and ginger ale and stood aloof from the handful of other privileged passengers in the gracious lounge, trying to feel like a baronet. Then he remembered the real Sir Hilary Bray, perhaps now gralloching a hind with his bare hands somewhere up in the Glens. There was nothing of the baronet about him! He really must get rid of the inverted snobbery that, with its opposite, is ingrained in so many of the English! He must stop acting a part, being a stage nobleman! He would just be himself and, if he gave the appearance of being rather a rough-hewn baronet, the easy-going kind, well, that at least was like the real one up in Scotland. Bond threw down the Times that he had been carrying as an extra badge of Top Peopleship, picked up the Daily Express, and asked for another brandy and ginger ale.

Then, with its twin jets whispering far back of the first-class cabin, the Swissair Caravelle was airborne and Bond's mind was reaching forward to the rendezvous that had been so briefly detailed by the Zurich solicitors. Sir Hilary would be met at the airport by one of the Comte de Bleuville's secretaries. He would be seeing the Count that day or the next. Bond had a moment of panic. How should he address the man when he met him? Count? Monsieur le Comte? No, he would call him nothing - perhaps an occasional patronizing 'my dear sir' in context. What would Blofeld look like? Would he have changed his appearance much? Probably, or the fox wouldn't have kept ahead of the hounds so efficiently. Bond's excitement mounted as he consumed a delicious lunch served by a delicious stewardess, and the winter-brown chequerboard of France fled backwards distantly below. Now there was scattered snow and barren trees as they crossed the tiny hillocks of the Vosges, then permanent snow and ice-floes on the Rhine, a short stop at Basle, and then the black criss-cross of Zurich Airport and 'fasten your lap-straps' in three languages, and they were planing down, a slight bump, the roar of jet deflection, and then they were taxying up to the apron in front of the imposing, very European-looking buildings decked with the gay flags of the nations.

At the Swissair desk inside the door, a woman was standing beside the reception counter. As soon as Bond appeared in the entrance she came forward. 'Sair Hilary Bray?'

'Yes.'

'I am Fraulein Irma Bunt. Personal secretary to the Count. Good afternoon. I hope you had a happy flight.'

She looked like a very sunburned female wardress. She had a square, brutal face with hard yellow eyes. Her smile was an oblong hole without humour or welcome, and there were sunburn blisters at the left corner of her mouth which she licked from time to time with the tip of a pale tongue. Wisps of brownish grey hair, with a tight, neat bun at the back, showed from under a skiing hat with a yellow talc visor that had straps which met under her chin. Her strong, short body was dressed in unbecomingly tight vorlage trousers topped by a grey wind-jacket ornamented over the left breast with a large red G topped by a coronet. Irma la not so Douce, thought Bond. He said, 'Yes. It was very pleasant.'

'You have your baggage check? Will you follow me, please? And first your passport. This way.'

Bond followed her through the passport control and out into the customs hall. There were a few standers-by. Bond noticed her head nod casually. A man with a brief-case under his arm, hanging about, moved away. Bond studiously examined his baggage check. Beyond the scrap of cardboard, he noticed the man slip into one of the row of telephone booths in the main hall outside the customs area.

'You speak German?' The tongue flicked out and licked the blisters.

'No, I'm afraid not.'

'French perhaps?'

'A little. Enough for my work.'

'Ah, yes. That is important, yes?'

Bond's suitcase was unloaded off the trolley on to the barrier. The woman flashed some kind of a pass at the customs officer. It was very quickly done, but Bond caught a glimpse of her photograph and the heading 'Bundespolizei'. So! Blofeld had got the fix in!

The officer said deferentially, 'Bitte sehr,' and chalked his symbol in the colour of the day, yellow, on Bond's suitcase. A porter took it and they walked across to the entrance. When they came out pn the steps, an anonymous black Mercedes 300 SE saloon pulled smartly out of the parking area and slid to a stop beside them. Next to the chauffeur sat the man who had gone to the telephone. Bond's suitcase was put in the boot and they moved off fast in the direction of Zurich. A few hundred yards down the wide road, the man beside the driver, who, Bond noticed, had been surreptitiously watching in the twin driving-mirror, said softly, 'Is' gut,' and the car turned right-handed up a side road which was marked 'Eingang Verboten! Mit Ausnahme von Eigentumer und Personell von Privatflugzeugen'.

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