The Count got to his feet. Bond followed suit. He walked casually over to the railing and admired the view. Would this bedraggled fly be taken? Bond now desperately hoped so. During the interview he had come to one certain conclusion. There was not a single one of the peculiarities in the Count's appearance that could not have been achieved by good acting and by the most refined facial and stomach surgery applied to the original Blofeld. Only the eyes could not have been tampered with. And the eyes were obscured.

'You think that with patient work, even with the inclusion of a few question marks where the connecting links are obscure, I would achieve an Acte de Notoriete that would satisfy the Minister of Justice in Paris?'

'Most certainly,' lied Bond. 'With the authority of the College in support.'

The fixed smile widened minutely. 'That would give me much satisfaction, Sir Hilary. I am the Comte de Bleuville.

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I am certain of it in my heart, in my veins.' There was real fervour in the voice. 'But I am determined that my title shall be officially recognized. You will be most welcome to remain as my guest and I shall be constantly at your disposal to help with your researches.'

Bond said politely, but with a hint of weariness, of resignation, 'All right, Count. And thank you. I will go and make a start straight away.'

12

Two Near Misses

BOND WAS shown out of the building by a man in a white coat with the conventional white gauze of the laboratory worker over the lower half of his face. Bond attempted no conversation. He was now well inside the fortress, but he would have to continue to walk on tiptoe and be damned careful where he put his feet!

He returned to his room and got out one of the giant sheets of squared paper with which he had been furnished. He sat down at his table and wrote firmly at the top centre of the paper 'Guillaume de Bleuville, 1207-1243'. Now there were five hundred years of de Bleuvilles, with their wives and children, to be copied down from his books and notes. That would fill up an impressive number of pages with impeccable fact. He could certainly spread that chore over three days, interspersed with more tricky work - gassing with Blofeld about the Blofeld end of the story. Fortunately there were some English Blofields he could throw in as makeweight. And some Bluefields and Blumfields. He could start some pretty hares running in those directions! And, in between these idiotic activities, he would ferret and ferret away at the mystery of what in hell the new Blofeld, the new SPECTRE, were up to!

One thing was certain, they had already been through his belongings. Before going for his interview, Bond had gone into the bathroom, away from that seemingly watchful hole in the ceiling, and had painfully pulled out half a dozen of his hairs. These, while he had selected the books he needed to take with him, he had dispersed inconspicuously among his other papers and in his passport. The hairs were all gone. Someone had been through all his books. He got up and went to the chest of drawers, ostensibly for a handkerchief. Yes, the careful patterns in which he had laid out his things had all been minutely disturbed. Unemotionally he went back to his work, thanking heaven he had travelled as 'clean' as a whistle! But by God he'd have to keep his cover solid! He didn't at all like the thought of that one-way trip down the bob-run!

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Bond got as far as 1350 and then the noise from the veranda became too distracting. Anyway, he had done a respectable stint, almost to the bottom of the giant page. He would go out and do a little very discreet exploring. He wanted to get his bearings, or rather confirm them, and this would be a perfectly reasonable activity for a newcomer. He had left his door into the passage ajar. He went out and along to the reception lounge, where the man in the plum coat was busy entering the names of the morning's visitors in a book. Bond's greeting was politely answered. There was a ski-room and workshop to the left of the exit. Bond wandered in. One of the Balkan types was at the workbench, screwing a new binding on to a ski. He looked up and went on with his work while Bond gazed with seeming curiosity at the ranks of skis standing along the wall. Things had changed since his day. The bindings were quite different and designed, it seemed, to keep the heel dead flat on the ski. And there were new safety releases. Many of the skis were of metal and the ski-sticks were fibre-glass lances that looked to Bond extremely dangerous in the event of a bad fall. Bond wandered over to the work-bench and feigned interest in what the man was doing. In fact he had seen something that excited him very much - an untidy pile of lengths of thin plastic strip for the boot to rest on in the binding, so that, on the shiny surface, snow would not ball under the sole. Bond leaned over the work-bench, resting on his right elbow, and commented on the precision of the man's work. The man grunted and concentrated all the more closely to avoid further conversation. Bond's left hand slid under his leaning arm, secured one of the strips and slid it up his sleeve. He made a further inane comment, which was not answered, and strolled out of the ski-room.

(When the man in the workshop heard the front door hiss shut, be turned to the pile of plastic strips and counted them carefully twice. Then he went out to the man in the plum-coloured coat and spoke to him in German. The man nodded and picked up the telephone receiver and dialled O. The workman went stolidly back to his ski-room.)

As Bond strolled along the path that led to the cable station, he transferred the plastic strip from his sleeve to his trouser pocket, feeling pleased with himself. He had at least provided himself with one tool - the traditional burglar's tool for opening the Yale-type locks that secured the doors.

Away from the club house, to which only a thin trickle of smart-looking people were making their way, he got into the usual mountain-top crowd - people swarming out of the cable-head, skiers wobbling or schussing down the easy nursery slopes on the plateau, little groups marshalled under individual teachers and guides from the valley. The terrace of the public restaurant was already crowded with the underprivileged who hadn't got the money or the connexions to join the club. He walked below it on the well-trampled snow and stood among the skiers at the top of the first plunging schuss of the Gloria run. A large notice-board, crowned with the G and the coronet, announced GLORIA ABFAHRT! Then below, ROT - FREIE FAHRT. GELB - FREIE FAHRT.

SCHWARZ - GESPERRT, meaning that the red and yellow runs were open but the black dosed, presumably because of avalanche danger. Below this again was a painted metal map of the three runs. Bond had a good look at it, reflecting that it might be wise to commit to memory the red, which was presumably the easiest and most popular. There were red, yellow, and black marker flags on the map, and Bond could see the actual flags fluttering way down the mountain until the runs, studded with tiny moving figures, disappeared to the left, round the shoulder of the mountain and under the cable railway. The red seemed to continue to zigzag under the cable and between the few high pylons until it met the tree line. Then there was a short stretch of wood-running until the final easy schuss across the undulating lower meadows to the bottom cable-head, beyond which lay the main railway line and then the Pontresina-Samaden road. Bond tried to get it all fixed in his mind. Then he watched some of the starts. These varied between the arrow-like dive of the Kannonen, the stars, who took the terrific schuss dead straight in a low crouch with their sticks jauntily tucked under their arm-pits, the average amateur who braked perhaps three or four times on his way down, and the terrified novice who, with stuck-out behind, stemmed his way down, his skis angled and edged like a snow-plough, with occasional straight runs diagonally across the polished slope - dashing little sprints that usually ended in a mild crash as he ran off the flattened surface into the thick powder snow that edged the wide, beaten piste.

The scene was the same as a thousand others Bond had witnessed when, as a teenager, he learned his skiing in the old Hannes Schneider School at St Anton in the Arlberg. He had got pretty good and had won his golden K, but the style in those days was rudimentary compared with what he was now witnessing from the occasional expert who zoomed down and away from beside him. Today the metal skis seemed to run faster and truer than the old steel-edged hickory. There was less shoulder-work and the art of Wedeln, a gentle waggling of the hips, was a revelation. Would it be as effective in deep new snow as it was on the well-beaten piste? Bond was doubtful, but he was envious of it. It was so much more graceful than the old Arlberg crouch. Bond wondered how he would fare on this terrific run. He would certainly not dare to take the first schuss straight. He would brake at least twice, perhaps there and there. And his legs would be trembling before he had been going for five minutes. His knees and ankles and wrists would be giving out. He must get on with his exercises!

Bond, excited, left the scene and followed arrows that pointed to the GLORIA EXPRESS BOB-RUN. It lay on the other side of the cable station. There was a small wooden hut, the starter's hut, with telephone-wires connected to the station, and, beneath the cable station, a little 'garage' that housed the bob-sleighs and one-man skeleton-bobs. A chain, with a notice on it.saying ABFAHRTEN TÄGLICH 0900-1100, was stretched across the wide mouth of the gulch of blue ice that curved away to the left and then disappeared over the shoulder. Here again was a metal map showing the zigzag course of the run down into the valley. In deference to the English traditions at the sport, outstanding curves and hazards were marked with names such as 'Dead Man's Leap', 'Whizz-Bang Straight', 'Battling S', 'Hell's Delight', 'The Boneshaker', and the finishing straight down 'Paradise Alley'. Bond visualized the scene that morning, heard again that heart-rending scream. Yes, that death certainly had the old Blofeld touch!

'Sair Hilary! Sair Hilary!'

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Startled out of his thoughts, Bond turned. Fraulein Irma Bunt, her short arms akimbo, was standing on the path to the club.

'Lunch time! Lunch!'

'Coming,' Bond called back, and strolled up the slope towards her. He noted that, even in that hundred yards, his breathing was shallow and his limbs were heavy. This blasted height! He really must get into training!

He came up with her. She looked surly. He said that he was sorry, he had not noticed the time. She said nothing. The yellow eyes surveyed him with active dislike before she turned her back and led the way along the path.

Bond looked back over the morning. What had he done? Had he made a mistake? Well, he just might have. Better re-insure! As they came through the entrance into the reception lounge, Bond said casually, 'Oh, by the way, Fraulein Bunt, I was in the ski-room just now.'

She halted. Bond noticed that the head of the receptionist bent a fraction lower over his visitors' book.

'Yes?'

Bond took the length of plastic out of his pocket. 'I found just what I wanted.' He stitched a smile of innocent pleasure on his face. 'Like an idiot I forgot to bring a ruler with me. And there were these things on the work-bench. Just right. So I borrowed one. I hope that was all right. Of course I'll leave it behind when I go. But for these family trees, you know9 - Bond sketched a series of descending straight lines in the air - 'one has to get them on the right levels. I hope you don't mind.' He smiled charmingly. 'I was going to confess the nest time I saw you.'

Irma Bunt veiled her eyes. ' It is of no consequence. In future, anything you need you will perhaps ring for, isn't it? The Count wishes you to have every facility. Now' - she gestured - 'if you will perhaps go out on the terrace. You will be shown to our table. I will be with you in a moment.'

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