It was time to make the going again! Resignedly, Bond turned to Fraulein Bunt. 'Fraulein Bunt. Please explain to me. What is the difference between a piz and an alp and a berg?'

The yellow eyes gleamed with academic enthusiasm. 'Ah, Sair Hilary, but that is an interesting question. It had not occurred to me before. Now let me see.' She gazed into the middle distance. 'A piz, that is only a local name in this department of Switzerland for a peak. An alp, that one would think would be smaller than a berg - a hill, perhaps, or an upland pasture, as compared with a mountain. But that is not so. These' - she waved her hand - 'are all alps and yet they are great mountains. It is the same in Austria, certainly in the Tyrol. But in Germany, in Bavaria for instance, which is my home land, there it is all bergs. No Sair Hilary' - the box-like smile was switched on and off - ' I cannot help you. But why do you ask?'

'In my profession,' said Bond prosily, 'the exact meaning of words is vital. Now, before we met for cocktails, it amused me to look up your surname, Bunt, in my books of reference. What I found, Fraulein, was most interesting. Bunt, it seems, is German for “gay”, “happy”. In England, the name has almost certainly been corrupted into Bounty, perhaps even into Bronte, because the grandfather of the famous literary family by that name had in fact changed his name from the less aristocratic name of Brunty. Now this is most interesting.' (Bond knew that it wasn't, that this was all hocus-pocus, but he thought it would do no harm to stretch his heraldic muscles.) 'Can you remember if your ancestors had any connexion with England? There is the Dukedom of Bronte, you see, which Nelson assumed. It would be interesting to establish a connexion.'

The penny dropped! A duchess! Irma Bunt, hooked, went off into a dreary chronicle of her forebears, including proudly, distant relationship with a Graf von Bunt. Bond listened politely, prodding her back to the immediate past. She gave the name of her father and mother. Bond filed them away. He now had enough to find out in due course exactly who Irma Bunt was. What a splendid trap snobbery was! How right Sable Basilisk had been! There is a snob in all of us and only through snobbery could Bond have discovered who the parents of this woman were.

Bond finally calmed down the woman's momentary fever, and the head waiter, who had been politely hovering, presented giant menus covered in violet ink. There was everything from caviar down to Double Mokka au whisky irlandais. There were also many 'spécialités Gloria' - Poulet Gloria, Homard Gloria, Tournedos Gloria, and so on. Bond, despite his forswearing of specialties, decided to give the chicken a chance. He said so and was surprised by the enthusiasm with which Ruby greeted his choice. 'Oh, how right you are, Sir Hilary! I adore chicken too. I absolutely dote on it. Can I have that too, please, Miss Bunt?'

There was such surprising fervour in her voice that Bond watched Irma Bunt's face. What was that matronly gleam in her eye as she gave her approval? It was more than approval for a good appetite among her charges. There was enthusiasm, even triumph there. Odd! And it happened again when Violet stipulated plenty of potatoes with her tournedos. 'I simply love potatoes,' she explained to Bond, her eyes shining. 'Don't you?'

'They're fine,' agreed Bond. 'When you're taking plenty of exercise, that is.'

'Oh, they're just darling,' enthused Violet. 'Aren't they, Miss Bunt?'

'Very good indeed, my dear. Very good for you too. And Fritz, I will just have the mixed salad with some cottage cheese.' She gave the caricature of a simper. 'Alas' - she spoke to Bond - 'I have to watch my figure. These young things take plenty of exercise, while I must stay in my office and do the paper-work, isn't it?'

At the next table Bond heard the girl with the Scottish burr, her voice full of saliva, ask that her Aberdeen Angus steak should be cooked very rare indeed. 'Guid and bluidy,' she emphasized.

What was this? wondered Bond. A gathering of beautiful ogresses? Or was this a day off from some rigorous diet? He felt completely clueless, out of his depth. Well, he would just go on digging. He turned to Ruby. 'You see what I mean about surnames. Fraulein Bunt may even have distant claim to an English title. Now what's yours, for instance? I'll see what I can make of it.'

Fraulein Bunt broke in sharply. 'No surnames here, Sair Hilary. It is a rule of the house. We use only first names for the girls. It is part of the Count's treatment. It is bound up with a change, a transference of identity, to help the cure. You understand?'

'No, I'm afraid that's way out of my depth,' said Bond cheerfully.

'No doubt the Count will explain some of these matters to you tomorrow. He has special theories. One day the world will be startled when he reveals his methods.'

'I'm sure,' said Bond politely. 'Well now' - he searched for a subject that would leave his mind free to roam on its own. 'Tell me about your skiing. How are you getting on? Don't do it myself, I'm afraid. Perhaps I shall pick up some tips watching your classes.'

It was an adequate ball which went bouncing on between Ruby and Violet, and Bond kept it in play while their food came and proved delicious. Poulet Gloria was spatchcocked, with a mustard-and-cream sauce. The girls fell silent over their dishes, consuming them with polite but concentrated greed. There was a similar pause in the chatter at the other tables. Bond made conversation about the decor of the room and this gave him a chance to have a good look at the waiters. There were twelve of them in sight. It was not difficult to sum them up as three Corsicans, three Germans, three vaguely Balkan faces, Turks, Bulgars, or Yugoslavs, and three obvious Slavs. There would probably be three Frenchmen in the kitchen. Was this the old pattern of SPECTRE? The well-tried communist-cell pattern of three men from each of the great gangster and secret-service organizations in Europe? Were the three Slavs ex-Smersh men? The whole lot of them looked tough enough, had that quiet smell of the pro. The man at the airport was one of them. Bond recognized others as the reception steward and the man who had come to his room about the table. He heard the girls calling them Fritz, Joseph, Ivan, Achmed. And some of them were ski guides during the day. Well, it was a nice little set-up if Bond was right.

Bond excused himself after dinner on the grounds of work. He went to his room and laid out his books and papers on the desk and on the extra table that had been provided. He bent over them studiously while his mind reviewed the day.

At ten o'clock he heard the goodnights of the girls down the corridor and the click of the doors shutting. He undressed, turned the thermostat on the wall down from eighty-five to sixty, switched off the light, and lay on his back for a while staring up into the darkness. Then he gave an authentic sigh of exhaustion for the microphones, if any, and turned over on his side and went to sleep.

Later, much later, he was awakened by a very soft murmuring that seemed to come from somewhere under the floor, but very, very far away. He identified it as a minute, spidery whispering that went on and on. But he could not make out any words and he finally put it down to the central-heating pipes, turned over, and went to sleep again.

11

Death for Breakfast

JAMES BOND awoke to a scream. It was a terrible, masculine scream out of hell. It fractionally held its first high, piercing note and then rapidly diminished as if the man had jumped off a cliff. It came from the right, from somewhere near the cable station perhaps. Even in Bond's room, muffled by the double windows, it was terrifying enough. Outside it must have been shattering.

Bond jumped up and pulled back the curtains, not knowing what scene of panic, of running men, would meet his eyes. But the only man in sight was one of the guides, walking slowly, stolidly up the beaten snow-path from the cable station to the club. The spacious wooden veranda that stretched from the wall of the club out over the slope of the mountain was empty, but tables had been laid for breakfast and the upholstered chaises-longue for the sunbathers had already been drawn up in their meticulous, colourful rows. The sun was blazing down out of a crystal sky. Bond looked at his watch. It was eight o'clock. Work began early in this place! People died early. For that had undoubtedly been the death-scream. He turned back into his room and rang the bell.

It was one of the three men Bond had suspected of being Russians. Bond became the officer and gentleman. 'What is your name?'

'Peter sir.'

'Piotr?' Bond longed to say. 'And how are all my old friends from SMERSH?' He didn't. He said, 'What was that scream?'

'Pliss?' The granite-grey eyes were careful.

'A man screamed just now. From over by the cable station. What was it?'

'It seems there has been an accident, sir. You wish for breakfast?' He produced a large menu from under his arm and, held it out clumsily.

'What sort of an accident?"

'It seems that one of the guides has fallen.'

How could this man have known that, only minutes after the scream? 'Is he badly hurt?'

'Is possible, sir.' The eyes, surely trained in investigation, held Bond's blandly. 'You wish for breakfast?' The menu was once again nudged forward.

Bond said, with sufficient concern, 'Well, I hope the poor chap's all right.' He took the menu and ordered. 'Let me know if you hear what happened.'

'There will no doubt be an announcement if the matter is serious. Thank you, sir.' The man withdrew.

It was the scream that triggered Bond into deciding that, above all things, he must keep fit. He suddenly felt that, despite all the mystery and its demand for solution, there would come a moment when he would need all his muscle. Reluctantly he proceeded to a quarter of an hour of knee-bends and press-ups and deep-breathing chest-expansions -exercises of the skiing muscles. He guessed that he might have to get away from this place. But quick!

He took a shower and shaved. Breakfast was brought by Peter. 'Any more news about this poor guide?'

'I have heard no more, sir. It concerns the outdoor staff. I work inside the club.'

Bond decided to play it down. 'He must have slipped and broken an ankle. Poor chap! Thank you, Peter.'

'Thank you, sir.' Did the granite eyes contain a sneer?

James Bond put his breakfast on the desk and, with some difficulty, managed to prise open the double window. He removed the small bolster that lay along the sill between the panes to keep out draughts, and blew away the accumulated dust and small fly-corpses. The cold, savourless air of high altitudes rushed into the room and Bond went to the thermostat and put it up to 90 as a counter-attack. While, his head below the level of the sill, he ate a spare continental breakfast, he heard the chatter of the girls assembling outside on the terrace. The voices were high with excitement and debate. Bond could hear every word.

'I really don't think Sarah should have told on him.'

'But he came in in the dark and started mucking her about.'

'You mean actually interfering with her?'

'So she says. If I'd been her, I'd have done the same. And he's such a beast of a man.'

'Was, you mean. Which one was it, anyway?'

'One of the Yugos. Bertil.'

'Oh, I know. Yes, he was pretty horrible. He had such dreadful teeth.'

'You oughtn't to say such things of the dead.'

'How do you know he's dead? What happened to him, anyway?'

'He was one of the two you see spraying the start of the bob-run. You see them with hoses every morning. It's to get it good and icy so they'll go faster. Fritz told me he somehow slipped, lost his balance, or something. And that was that. He just went off down the run like a sort of human bob-sleigh.'

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***