Marc-Ange was delighted. 'You might win with guns. But not in close combat. They are pigs, my men. Great pigs. The greatest. I am taking five of the best. With you and me that is seven. How many did you say there are on the mountain?'

'About eight. And the big one.'

'Ah yes, the big one,' said Marc-Ange reflectively. 'That is one that must not get away,' He got up. 'And now, my friend, I have ordered dinner, a good dinner, to be served us up here. And then we will go to bed stinking of garlic and, perhaps, just a little bit drunk. Yes?'

From his heart Bond said, 'I can't think of anything better.'

24

Blood-Lift

THE NEXT day, after lunch. Bond made his way by plane and train to the Hotel Maison Rouge at Strasbourg, his breath bearing him dose company like some noisome, captive pet.

He was totally exhilarated by his hours with Marc-Ange in Marseilles and by the prospects before him - the job that was to be done and, at the end of it, Tracy.

The morning had been an endless series of conferences round the model of Piz Gloria and its buildings that had been put up in the night. New faces came, received their orders in a torrent of dialect, and disappeared - rough, murderous faces, bandits' faces, but all bearing one common expression, devotion to their Capu. Bond was vastly impressed by the authority and incisiveness of Marc-Ange as he dealt with each problem, each contingency, from the obtaining of a helicopter down to the pensions that would be paid to the families of the dead. Marc-Ange hadn't liked the helicopter business. He had explained to Bond, 'You see, my friend, there is only one source for this machine, the OAS, the French secret army of the right wing. It happens that they are under an obligation to me, a heavy one, and that is the way I would have it. I do not like being mixed up in politics. I like the country where I operate to be orderly, peaceful. I do not like revolutions. They make chaos everywhere. Today, I never know when an operation of my own is not going to be interfered with by some damned emergency concerning Algerian terrorists, the rounding up of some nest of these blasted OAS. And road blocks! House to house searches! They are the bane of my existence. My men can hardly move without falling over a nest of flics or SDT spies -that, as I'm sure you know, is the latest of the French Secret Services. They are getting as bad as the Russians with their constant changes of initials. It is the Section Defense Terri toire. It comes under the Ministry of the Interior and I am finding it most troublesome and difficult to penetrate. Not like the good old Deuxieme. It makes life for the peace-loving very difficult. But I naturally have my men in the OAS and I happen to know that the OAS has a military helicopter, stolen from the French Army, hidden away at a chateau on the Rhine not fat from Strasbourg. The château belongs to some crazy fascist count. He is one of those Frenchmen who cannot live without conspiring against something. So now he has put all his money and property behind this General Salan. His chateau is remote. He poses as an inventor. His farm people are not surprised that there is some kind of flying machine kept in an isolated barn with mechanics to tend it - OAS mechanics, bien entendu. And now, early this morning, I have spoken on my radio to the right man and I have the machine on loan for twenty-four hours with the best pilot in their secret air force. He is already on his way to the place to make his preparations, fuel, and so on. But it is unfortunate. Before, these people were in my debt. Now I am in theirs.' He shrugged. 'What matter? I will soon have them under my thumb again. Half the police and Customs officers in France are Corsicans. It is an important laissez-passer for the Union Corse. You understand?'

* * *

At the Maison Rouge, a fine room had been booked tor Bond. He was greeted with exaggerated courtesy tinged with reserve. Where didn't the freemasonry of the Union operate? Bond, obedient to the traditions of the town, made a simple dinner off the finest foie gras, pink and succulent, and half a bottle of champagne, and retired gratefully to bed. He spent the next morning in his room, changed into his ski clothes, and sent out for a pair of snow-goggles and thin leather gloves, sufficient to give some protection to his hands but close-fitting enough for the handling of his gun. He took the magazine out of his gun, pumped out the single round in the chamber and practised shooting himself in the wardrobe mirror with the gloves on until he was satisfied. Then he reloaded and got the fitting of the stitched pigskin holster comfortable inside the waist-band of his trousers. He had his bill sent up and paid it, and ordered his suitcase to be forwarded on to Tracy at the Vier Jahreszeiten. Then he sent for the day's papers and sat in front of the window, watching the traffic in the street and forgetting what he read.

When, at exactly midday, the telephone rang, he went straight down and out to the grey Peugeot 403 he had been told to expect. The driver was Ché-Ché. He acknowledged Bond's greeting curtly and, in silence, they drove for an hour across the uninteresting countryside, finally turning left off a secondary road into a muddy lane that meandered through thick forest. In due course there was the ill-kept stone wall of a large property and then a vast broken-down iron gateway leading into a park. On the unweeded drive-way were the recent tracks of vehicles. They followed these past the dilapidated facade of a once-imposing chateau, on through the forest to where the trees gave way to fields. On the edge of the trees was a large barn in good repair. They stopped outside and Ché-Ché sounded three shorts on his horn. A small door in the wide double doors of the barn opened and Marc-Ange came out. He greeted Bond cheerfully. 'Come along in, my friend. You are just in time for some good Strasbourg sausage and a passable Riquewihr. Rather thin and bitter. I would have christened it “Chateau Pis-de-Chat”, but it serves to quench the thirst.'

Inside it was almost like a film set. Lights blazed down on the ungainly shape of the Army helicopter and from somewhere came the cough of a small generator. The place seemed to be full of people. Bond recognized the faces of the Union men. The others were, he assumed, the local mechanics. Two men on ladders were busily engaged painting red crosses on white backgrounds on the black-painted fuselage of the machine, and the paint of the recognition letters, FL-BGS, presumably civilian and false, still glittered wetly. Bond was introduced to the pilot, a bright-eyed, fair-haired young man In overalls called Georges. 'You will be sitting beside him,' explained Marc-Ange. 'He is a good navigator, but he doesn't know the last stretch up the valley and he has never heard of Piz Gloria. You had better go over the maps with him after some food. The general route is Basle-Zurich.' He laughed cheerfully. He said in French, 'We are going to have some interesting conversation with the Swiss Air Defences, isn't it, Georges?'

Georges didn't smile. He said briefly, 'I think we can fool them,' and went about his business.

Bond accepted a foot of garlic sausage, a hunk of bread, and a bottle of the 'Pis-de-Chat', and sat on an upturned packing-case while Marc-Ange went back to supervising the loading of the 'stores' - Schmeisser sub-machine guns and six-inch square packets in red oilcloth.

In due course, Marc-Ange lined up his team, including Bond, and carried out a quick inspection of side-arms, which, in the case of the Union men, included well-used flick-knives. The men, as well as Marc-Ange, were clothed in brand-new ski clothes of grey cloth. Marc-Ange handed to all of them armlets in black doth bearing the neatly stitched words 'Bundesalpenpolizei'. When Marc-Ange gave Bond his, he commented, 'There is no such force as the “Federal Police of the Alps”. But I doubt if our SPECTRE friends will know that. At least the armbands will make an important first impression.'

Marc-Ange looked at his watch. He turned and called out in French, 'Two forty-five. All ready? Then let us roll!'

The farm tractor attached to the wheel-base of the helicopter started up, the gates of the barn were thrown wide, and the great meed insect moved slowly out on to the grassland under the pale winter sun. The tractor was uncoupled and the pilot, followed by Bond, climbed up the little aluminium ladder and then into the raised cockpit and strapped themselves in. The others followed into the ten-seat cabin, the ladder was pulled up, and the door banged and locked. On the ground, the mechanics lifted their thumbs and the pilot bent to his controls. He pressed the starter and, after a first indecisive cough, the engine fired healthily and the great blades began to turn. The pilot glanced back at the whirring tail-rotor. He waited while the needle on the rotor speed-indicator crept up to 200, then he released the wheel-brakes and pulled up slowly on the pitch-lever. The helicopter trembled, unwilling to leave the earth, but then came a slight jerk and they were up and climbing rapidly above the trees. The pilot retracted his wheels above the inflated snow-floats, gave the machine left rudder, pushed forward the joystick, and they were off.

Almost at once they were over the Rhine and Basle lay ahead under a thick canopy of chimney-smoke. They reached two thousand feet and the pilot held it, skirting the town to the north. Now there came a crackle of static over Bond's ear-phones and Swiss Air Control, in thick Schwyzerdütch, asked them politely to identify themselves. The pilot made no reply and the question was repeated with more urgency. The pilot said in French, 'I don't understand you.' There was a pause, then a French voice again queried them. The pilot said, 'Repeat yourself more clearly.' The voice did so. The pilot said, 'Helicopter of the Red Cross flying blood plasma to Italy.' The radio went dead. Bond could imagine the scene in the control room somewhere down below - the arguing voices, the doubtful faces. Another voice, with more authority to it, spoke in French. 'What is your destination?' 'Wait,' said the pilot. 'I have it here. A moment please.' After minutes he said, 'Swiss Air. Control?' 'Yes, yes.' 'FL-BGS reporting. My destination is Ospedale Santa Monica at Bellinzona.' The radio again went dead, only to come to life five minutes later. 'FL-BGS, FL-BGS.' 'Yes,' said the pilot. 'We have no record of your identification symbol. Please explain.' 'Your registration manual must be out of date. The aircraft was commissioned only one month ago.' Another long pause. Now Zurich lay ahead and the silver boomerang of the Zürichersee. Now Zurich Airport came on the air. They must have been listening to Swiss Air Control. 'FL-BGS, FL-BGS.' 'Yes, yes. What is it now?' 'You have infringed the Civil Airlines Channel. Land and report to Flying Control. I repeat. Land and report.' The pilot became indignant. 'What do you mean “land and report”? Have you no comprehension of human suffering? This is a mercy flight carrying blood plasma of a rare category. It is to save the life of an illustrious Italian scientist at Bellinzona. Have you no hearts down there? You tell me to “land and report” when a life is at stake? Do you wish to be responsible for murder?' This Gallic outburst gave them peace until they had passed the Zurichersee. Bond chuckled. He gave a thumbs-up sign to the pilot. But then Federal Air Control at Berne came on the air and a deep, resonant voice said,' FL-BGS, FL-BGS. Who gave you clearance? I repeat. Who gave you clearance for your flight?' 'You did." Bond smiled into his mouthpiece. The Big Lie! There was nothing like it. Now the Alps were ahead of them - those blasted Alps, looking beautiful and dangerous in the evening sun. Soon they would be in the shelter of the valleys, off the radar screens. But records had been hastily checked in Berne and the sombre voice came over to them again. The voice must have realized that the long debate would have been heard at every airport and by most pilots flying over Switzerland that evening. It was extremely polite3 but firm. 'FL-BGS, we have no record at Federal Air Control of your proposed flight. I regret but you are transgressing Swiss air-space. Unless you can give further authority for your flight, kindly return to Zurich and report to Flying Control.'

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