At the same time, the spray from the snow-fan, that had now reached Bond, turned pink!

Bond wiped some of it off his face and looked at it. His stomach turned. God! The man had tried to follow him, had been too late or had missed his jump, and had been caught by the murderous blades of the snow-fan! Mincemeat! Bond dug a handful of snow off the bank and wiped it over his face and hair. He rubbed more of it down his sweater. He suddenly realized that people were pulling down the windows in the brilliantly-lit train above him. Others had got down on the line. Bond pulled himself together and punted off down the black ice of the road. Shouts followed him - the angry bawls of Swiss citizens. Bond edged his skis a little against the camber of the road and kept going. Ahead of him, down the black gulch of the road, in his mind's eye, the huge red propeller whirred, sucking him into its steel whirlpool. Bond, close to delirium, slithered on towards its bloody, beckoning vortex.

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Bond, a grey-faced, lunging automaton, somehow stayed upright on the two miles of treacherous Langlauf down the gentle slope to Samaden. Once a passing car, its snow-chains clattering, forced him into the bank. He leaned against the comforting soft snow for a moment, the breath sobbing in his throat. Then he drove himself on again. He had got so far, done so well! Only a few more hundred yards to the lights of the darling, straggling little paradise of people and shelter!

The slender campanile of the village church was floodlit and there was a great warm lake of light on the left of the twinkling group of houses. The strains of a waltz came over the still, frozen air. The skating-rink! A Christmas Eve skaters' ball. That was the place for him! Crowds! Gaiety! Confusion! Somewhere to lose himself from the double hunt that would now be on - by SPECTRE and the Swiss police, the cops and the robbers hand in hand!

Bond's skis hit a pile of horse's dung from some merrymaker's sleigh. He lurched drunkenly into the snow wall of the road and righted himself, cursing feebly. Come on! Pull yourself together! Look respectable! Well, you needn't look too respectable. After all, it's Christmas Eve. Here were the first houses. The noise of accordion music, deliciously nostalgic, came from a Gasthaus with a beautiful iron sign over its door. Now there was a twisty, uphill bit - the road to St Moritz. Bond shuffled up it, placing his sticks carefully. He ran a hand through his matted hair and pulled the sweat-soaked handkerchief down to his neck, tucking the ends into his shirt collar. The music lilted down towards him from the great pool of light over the skating-rink. Bond pulled himself a little more upright. There were a lot of cars drawn up, skis stuck in mounds of snow, luges and toboggans, festoons of paper streamers, a big notice in three languages across the entrance:' Grand Christmas Eve Ball! Fancy Dress! Entrance 2 Francs! Bring all your friends! Hooray!'

Bond dug in his sticks and bent down to unlatch his skis. He fell over sideways. If only he could just lie there, go to sleep on the hard, trodden snow that felt like swansdown! He gave a small groan and heaved himself gingerly into a crouch. The bindings were frozen solid, caked, like his boots, with ice. He got one of his sticks and hacked feebly at the metal and tried again. At last the latches sprang and the thongs were off. Where to put the bloody things, hide their brilliant red markings? He lugged them down the trodden path towards the entrance, gay with fairy lights, shoved the skis and the sticks under a big saloon car, and staggered on. The man at the ticket-table was as drunk as Bond seemed.

He looked up Wearily: 'Zwo Franken. Two francs. Deux francs.' The routine incantation was slurred into one portmanteau word. Bond held on to the table, put down the coins, and got his ticket. The man's eyes focused. 'The fancy dress, the travesti, it is obligatoire.' He reached into a box by his side and threw a black and white domino-mask on the table. 'One franc.' He gave a lop-sided smile. 'Now you are the gangster, the spy. Yes?'

'Yeah, that's right.' Bond paid and put on the mask. He reluctantly let go of the table and wove through the entrance. There were raised tiers of wooden benches round the big square rink. Thank God for a chance to sit down! There was an empty seat on the aisle in the bottom row at rink level. Bond stumbled down the wooden steps and fell into it. He righted himself, said ' Sorry,' and put his head in his hands. The girl beside him, part of a group of harlequins, Wild Westerners, and pirates, drew her spangled skirt away, whispered something to her neighbour. Bond didn't care. They wouldn't throw him out on a night like this. Through the loud-speakers the violins sobbed into 'The Skaters' Waltz'. Above them the voice of the MC called, 'Last dance, ladies and gentlemen. And then all out on to the rink and join hands for the grand finale. Only ten minutes to go to midnight! Last dance, ladies and gentlemen. Last dance!' There was a rattle of applause. People laughed excitedly.

God in Heaven! thought Bond feebly. Now this! Won't anybody leave me alone? He fell asleep.

Hours later he felt his shoulder being shaken. ' On to the rink, sir. Please. All on to the rink for the grand finale. Only a minute to go.' A man in purple and gold uniform was standing beside him, looking down impatiently.

'Go away,' said Bond dully. Then some inner voice told him not to make a scene, not to be conspicuous. He struggled to his feet, made the few steps to the rink, somehow stood upright. His head lowered, like a wounded bull, he looked to left and right, saw a gap in the human chain round the rink, and slid gingerly towards it. A hand was held out to him and he grasped it thankfully. On the other side someone else was laying to get hold of his free hand. And then there came a diversion. From right across the rink, a girl in a short black skating-skirt topped by a shocking-pink fur-lined parka, sped like an arrow across the ice and came to a crash-stop in front of Bond. Bond felt the ice particles hit his legs. He looked up. It was a face he recognized - those brilliant blue eyes, the look of authority now subdued beneath golden sunburn and a brilliant smile of excitement. Who in hell?

The girl slipped in beside him, seized his right hand in her left, joined up on her right. 'James' - it was a thrilling whisper - 'oh, James. It's me! Tracy! What's the matter with you? Where have you come from?'

'Tracy,' said Bond dully. 'Tracy. Hold on to me. I'm in bad shape. Tell you later.'

Then Auld Lang Syne began and everyone swung linked hands in unison to the music.

18

Fork Left for Hell!

BOND HAD no idea how he managed to stay upright, but at last it was over and everyone cheered and broke up into pairs and groups.

Tracy got her arm under his. Bond pulled himself together. He said hoarsely, 'Mix with the crowd, Tracy. Got to get away from here. People after me.' A sudden hope came to him. 'Got your car?'

'Yes, darling. Everything'll be all right. Just hang on to me. Are people waiting for you outside?'

'Could be. Watch out for a big black Mercedes. There may be shooting. Better stay away from me. I can make it. Where's the car?'

'Down the road to the right. But don't be silly. Here, I've got an idea. You get into this parka.' She ran the zip down and stripped it off. ' It'll be a tight fit. Here, put your arm into this sleeve.'

'But you'll get cold.'

'Do as I tell you. I've got a sweater and plenty on underneath. Now the other arm. That's right.' She pulled up the zip. 'Darling James, you look sweet.'

The fur of the parka smelt of Guerlain's 'Ode'. It took Bond back to Royale. What a girl! The thought of her, of having an ally, of not being on his own, of being away from that bloody mountain, revived Bond. He held her hand and followed her through the crowd that was now streaming towards the exit. This was going to be a bad moment! Whether or not that cable car had come on down the mountain, by now Blofeld would have had time to get one down full of SPECTRE men. Bond had been seen from the train, would be known to have made for Samaden. By now they would have covered the railway station. They would expect him to try and hide in a crowd. Perhaps the drunken man at the entrance had remembered him. If that saloon moved off and revealed the red-arrowed skis, it would be a cert. Bond let go the girl's hand and slipped the shattered Rolex back over the knuckles of his right hand. He had gathered enough strength, mostly from the girl, to have one more bash at them!

She looked at him. 'What are you doing?'

He took her hand again. 'Nothing.'

They were getting near the exit. Bond peered through the slits in his mask. Yes, by God! Two of the thugs were standing beside the ticket man watching the throng with deadly concentration. On the far side of the road stood the black Mercedes, petrol vapour curling up from its exhaust. No escape. There was only bluff. Bond put his arm round Tracy's neck and whispered, 'Kiss me all the way past the ticket-table. They're there, but I think we can make it.'

She flung an arm over his shoulder and drew him to her. 'How did you know that that's what I've been waiting for?' Her lips crushed down sideways on his and, in a tide of laughing, singing people, they were through and on the street.

They turned, still linked, down the road. Yes! There was the darling little white car!

And then the horn on the Mercedes began sounding urgently. Bond's gait, or perhaps his old-fashioned ski-trousers, had given him away to the man in the car!

'Quick, darling!' said Bond urgently.

The girl threw herself in under the wheel, pressed the starter and the car was moving as Bond scrambled in through the opposite door. Bond looked back. Through the rear window he could see the two men standing in the road. They would not shoot with so many witnesses about. Now they ran to the Mercedes. Thank God it was pointing up the hill towards St Moritz! And then Tracy had done a controlled skid round the S bend in the village and they were on the main road that Bond had staggered down half an hour before.

It would be five minutes at least before the Mercedes could turn and get after them. The girl was going like hell, but there was traffic on the road - tinkling sleighs full of fur-wrapped merrymakers on their way back to Pontresina, an occasional car, its snow-chains rattling. She drove on her brakes and her horn, the same triple wind-horn that sounded the high discord Bond remembered so well. Bond said, 'You're an angel, Tracy. But take it easy. We don't want to end up in the ditch.'

The girl glanced sideways at him and laughed with pleasure. 'That sounds as if you were feeling better. But I cannot see you. Now you can take off that silly mask and my parka. In a minute the heat will come on and you will be roasted. And I would like to see you as I remember you. But you are pleased with me?'

Life was beginning to come back into Bond. It was so wonderful to be in this little car with this marvellous girl. The memory of the dreadful mountain, of all that he had been through, was receding. Now there was hope again, after so much dread and despair. He could feel the tensions uncoiling in his stomach. He said,' I'll tell you if I'm pleased when we get to Zurich. Can you make it? It's a hell of a way to spend Christmas.' He wound down the window and threw the domino-mask out, stripped off the parka and draped it over her shoulders. The big sign for the main road down into the valley came up. He said, 'Left here, Tracy. Filisur and then Coire.'

She took the turning, in Bond's estimation, dangerously fast. She went into a skid that Bond swore was going to be uncontrolled. But, even on the black ice of the road, she got out of it and motored blithely on. Bond said, 'For God's sake, Tracy! How in hell did you manage that? You haven't even got chains on.'

She laughed, pleased at the awe in his voice. 'Dunlop Rally studs on all the tyres. They're only supposed to be for Rally drivers, but I managed to wangle a set out of them. Don't worry. Just sit back and enjoy the drive.'

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