Bond was amused as he ticked off the little precautions. It was obvious that he was still very much on probation.

The car came up with the hangars to the left of the main building, drove slowly between them and pulled up beside a bright orange Alouette helicopter, adapted by Sud Aviation for mountain rescue work. But this one had the red G with the coronet on its fuselage. So! He was going to be taken for a flight rather than a ride!

'You have travelled in one of these machines before, no? It is very pleasant. One obtains a fine view of the Alps.' Fraulein Bunt's eyes were blank with disinterest. They climbed up the aluminium ladder. 'Mind your head, please!' Bond's suitcase was handed up by the chauffeur.

It was a six-seater, luxurious in red leather. Above and in front of them under his Perspex canopy the pilot lifted a thumb. The ground staff pulled away the chocks and the big blades began to move. As they accelerated, the men on the ground drew away, shielding their faces against the whirling snow. There was a slight jolt and then they were climbing fast, and the crackle of radio from the control tower went silent.

Irma Bunt was across the passage-way from Bond. The extra man was in the rear, hidden behind the Zuricher Zeitung. Bond leaned sideways and said loudly, against the rattle of the machine, 'Where are we heading for?'

She pretended not to hear. Bond repeated his question, shouting it.

'Into the Alps. Into the high Alps,' shouted the woman. She waved towards the window. 'It is very beautiful. You like the mountains, isn't it?'

'I love them,' shouted Bond. 'Just like Scotland.' He leaned back in his seat, lit a cigarette, and looked out of the window. Yes, there was the Zurichersee to port. Their course was more or less east-south-east. They were flying at about 2,000 feet. And now there was the Wallensee. Bond, apparently uninterested, took the Daily Express out of his brief-case and turned to the sports pages. He read the paper from last page to first, meticulously, every now and then casting a bored glance out of the window. The big range to port would be the Rhatikon Alps. That would be the railway junction of Landquart below them. They held their course up the valley of the Pratigau. Would they keep on at Klosters or veer to starboard? Starboard it was. So! Up the Davos Valley! In a few minutes he would be flying over Tracy! A casual glance. Yes, there was Davos under its thin canopy of evening mist and smoke, while, above her, he was still in bright sunshine. At least she seemed to have had plenty of snow. Bond remembered the tremendous run down the Parsenn. Those had been the days! And now back on the old course again and giant peaks to right and left. This must be the Engadine. The Silvretta Group away to starboard, to port Piz Languard and, ahead, the Bernina range diving down, like a vast ski-jump, into Italy. That forest of lights away to starboard must be St Moritz! Now where? Bond buried himself in his paper. A slight veer to port. More lights. Pontresina? And now the radio began to crackle and the 'Seat belts' sign went up. Bond thought it time to express open interest. He gazed out. Below, the ground was mostly in darkness, but ahead the giant peaks were still golden in the dying sun. They were making straight for one of them, for a small plateau near its summit. There was a group of buildings from which golden wires swooped down into the darkness of the valley. A cable car, spangled in the sun, was creeping down. Now it had been swallowed up in tie murk. The helicopter was still charging the side of the peak that towered above them. Now it was only a hundred feet up above the slope, coming in to the plateau and the buildings. The pilot's arms moved on his joy stick. The machine pitched a little and slowed. The rotor arms swung languidly and then accelerated as the machine hovered and settled. There came a slight bump as the inflated rubber 'floats' met the snow, a dying whirr from the rotor and they were there.

Where? Bond knew. They were in the Languard range, somewhere above Pontresina in the Engadine, and their altitude would be about 10,000 feet. He buttoned up his raincoat and prepared for the rasping dagger of the cold anon his lungs when the door was opened.

Irma Bunt gave her box-like smile. 'We have arrived,' she said unnecessarily.

The door, with a clatter of falling ice particles, was wrenched open. The last rays of the sun shone into the cabin. They caught the woman's yellow sun visor and shone through, turning her face Chinese. The eyes gave out a false blaze, like the glass eyes of a toy animal, under the light.

'Mind your head.' She bent low, her tight, squat behind inviting an enormous .kick, and went down the ladder.

James Bond followed her, holding his breath against the searing impact of the Arctic, oxygenless air. There were one or two men standing around dressed like ski guides. They looked at Bond with curiosity, but there was no greeting. Bond went on across the hard-trodden snow in the wake of the woman, the extra man following with his suitcase. He heard the engine stutter and roar, and a blizzard of snow particles stung the right side of his face. Then the iron grasshopper rose into the air and rattled off into the dusk.

It was perhaps fifty yards from where the helicopter had landed to the group of buildings. Bond dawdled, getting preliminary bearings. Ahead was a long, low building, now ablaze with lights. To the right, and perhaps another fifty yards away, were the outlines of the typical modern cable railhead, a box-like structure, with a thick flat roof canted upwards from dose to the ground. As Bond examined it, its lights went out. Presumably the last car had reached the valley and the line was closed for the night. To the right of this was a large, bogus-chalet type structure with a vast veranda, sparsely lit, that would be for the mass tourist trade - again a typical piece of high-Alpine architecture. Down to the left, beneath the slope of the plateau, lights shone from a fourth building that, except for its flat roof, was out of sight.

Bond was now only a few yards from the building that was obviously his destination. An oblong of yellow opened invitingly as the woman went in and held the door for him. The light illuminated a big sign with the red G surmounted by the coronet. It said GLORIA KLUB. 3605 METRES. PRIVAT! NUR FUR MITGLIEDER. Below in smaller letters it said 'Alpenberghaus und Restaurant Piz Gloria', and the drooping index finger of the traditional hand pointed to the right, towards the building near the cable-head.

So! Piz Gloria! Bond walked into the inviting yellow oblong. The door, released by the woman, closed with a pneumatic hiss.

Inside it was deliriously warm, almost hot. They were in a small reception room, and a youngish man with a very pale crew-cut and shrewd eyes got to his feet from behind a desk and made a slight bob in their direction. ' Sir Hilary is in Number Two.'

'Weiss schon,' said the woman curtly and, only just more politely, to Bond, 'Follow me, please.' She went through a facing door and down a thickly-piled, red-carpeted passage. The left-hand wall was only occasionally broken by windows interspersed with fine skiing and mountain photographs. On the right were at first the doors of the club rooms, marked Bar, Restaurant, and Toiletten. Then came what were obviously the doors of bedrooms. Bond was shown into Number Two. It was an extremely comfortable, chintzy room in the American motel style with a bathroom leading off. The broad picture window was now curtained, but Bond knew that it must offer a tremendous view over the valley to the Suvretta group above St Moritz. Bond threw his briefcase on the double bed and gratefully disposed of his bowler hat and umbrella. The extra man appeared with his suitcase, placed it on the luggage stand without looking at Bond, and withdrew, closing the door behind him. The woman stayed where she was. 'This is to your satisfaction?' The yellow eyes were indifferent to his enthusiastic reply. She had more to say. 'That is good. Now perhaps I should explain some things, convey to you some laws of the club, isn't it?'

Bond lit a cigarette. 'That would certainly be helpful.' He put a politely interested expression on his face. 'Where are we, for instance?'

'In the Alps. In the high Alps,' said the woman vaguely. 'This Alp, Piz Gloria, is the property of the Count. Together with the Gemeinde, the local authorities, he constructed the Seilbahn. You have seen the cables, yes? This is the first year it is opened. It is very popular and brings in much money. There are some fine ski runs. The Gloria Abfahrt is already famous. There is also a bob-sleigh run that is much greater than the Cresta at St Moritz. You have heard of that? You ski perhaps? Or make the bob-sleigh?'

The yellow eyes were watchful. Bond thought he would continue to answer no to all questions. Instinct told him to. He said apologetically. 'I'm afraid not. Never got around to it, you know. Too much bound up with my books, perhaps.' He smiled ruefully, self-critically.

'Schade! That is a pity.' But the eyes registered satisfaction. 'These installations bring good income for the Count. That is important. It helps to support his life's work, the Institut.'

Bond raised his eyebrows a polite fraction.

'The Institut für physiologische Forschung. It is for scientific research. The Count is a leader in the field of allergies - you understand? This is like the hay fever, the unableness to eat shellfish, yes?'

'Oh really? Can't say I suffer from any myself.'

'No? The laboratories are in a separate building. There the Count also lives. In this building, where we are, live the patients. He asks that you will not disturb them with too many questions. These treatments are very delicate. You understand?'

'Yes, of course. And when may I see the Count? I'm afraid I am a very busy man, Fraulein Bunt. There are matters awaiting my attention in London.' Bond spoke impressively. 'The new African States. Much work has to be done on their flags, the design of their currency, their stamps, their medals. We are very short-handed at the College. I hope the Count understands that his personal problem, interesting and important though it is, must take second place to the problems of Government.'

Bond had got through. Now she was all eagerness, reassurance. 'But of course, my dear Sair Hilary. The Count asks to be excused tonight, but he would much like to receive you at eleven o'clock tomorrow morning. That is suitable?'

'Certainly, certainly. That will give me time to marshal my documents, my books. Perhaps" - Bond waved to the small writing desk near the window - 'I could have an extra table to lay these things out. I'm afraid' - Bond smiled deprecatingly - 'we bookworms need a lot of space.'

'Of course, Sair Hilary. It will be done at once.' She moved to the door and pressed a bell-button. She gestured downwards, now definitely embarrassed. 'You will have noticed that there is no door handle on this side?' (Bond had done so. He said he hadn't.) 'You will ring when you wish to leave the room. Yes? It is on account of the patients. It is necessary that they have quiet. It is difficult to prevent them visiting each other for the sake of gossiping. It is for their good. You understand? Bed-time is at ten o'clock. But there is a night staff in case you should need any service. And the doors are of course not locked. You may re-enter your room at any time. Yes? We meet for cocktails in the bar at six. It is - how do you say? - the rest-pause of the day.' The box-like smile made its brief appearance. 'My girls are much looking forward to meeting you.'

The door opened. It was one of the men dressed as guides, a swarthy, bull-necked man with brown Mediterranean eyes. One of Marc-Ange's Corsican defectors? In rapid, bad French, the woman said that another table was desired. This was to be furnished during dinner. The man said 'Entendu.' She held the door before he could close it and he went off down the passage to the right. Guards' quarters at the end of the passage? Bond's mind went on clicking up the clues.

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***