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On His Majesty's Secret Service (17)
It was late at night, and there was little static on the airwaves. “I’m sorry, Jungfrau,” Bond said over the C-47’s radio, “but I don’t have an encoding device handy. I can’t speak any more openly than I have. Over.”

“Bond, this is M,” said the familiar stern voice. “This is rather too important a matter for you to delay a report owing to security. The Americans and the Russians are a hair’s breadth away from beginning a shooting war, for God’s sake. Q assures me that other measures will provide some protection from eavesdropping, so you had better tell us what you’ve been up to.”

Bond wondered what ‘other measures’ Q could bring to bear on an open radio channel. Then he realized that M had used his name, not ‘Alp-Uncle’ as they had been carefully briefed back in London. Securing an open radio signal without encoding might be difficult; mimicking M’s voice electronically would be easy.

“I’m sorry, M,” said Bond, “but your signal is breaking up, probably owing to some weather north of our position. We’ll be landing in Frankfurt soon, and I shall make that report over a land-line from the British Embassy. Over and out.” He turned off the radio over M’s protests.

“I wasn’t planning on landing in Frankfurt,” said Susan.

“Neither was I,” said Bond. “We’re on our own. In fact, given the fact that Archie was both working for British Intelligence and Zoeller’s organization, I don’t think it’s safe to trust any help from that direction in the short term.”

“So what does that mean?” Susan asked sarcastically. “You’re going after Zoeller on his own turf with nothing more than the contents of your pockets?”

“I suppose so,” said Bond. “It certainly dashes my idea of landing in Munich and hiring a car for Schwangau; I’m almost out of money.”

“Well, don’t look in my direction,” said Susan. “The charts say there’s a small airport in Fussen, several miles from Schwangau. I’ll land you there, refuel, and then I’m off to pick up my gold. Fair enough?”

“Couldn’t ask for better,” said Bond.

Susan flew the plane low over the more remote parts of the countryside. Radar installations wouldn’t be able to spot them, and during peacetime and at night, farmers would be less likely to report them. Susan figured if she could talk the rubes at the airport in Fussen into refueling her, she could make it over the Alps to Italy where she had friends at a less law-abiding airfield. From there she could get back on flight-plans and stop running.

Susan gave Munich a wide berth and swept in from the east along the line of the mountains. The sun came up as they resumed a more normal flight elevation, and the snow-capped peaks were blinding in the clear morning light. Below them were picturesque villages and destinations for tourists, celebrating Oktoberfest and enjoying the skiing. During the war Bond had been obliged to learn skiing for some operations in Scandanavia; the thought of doing it for recreation was alien to him.

Susan got on the radio. “Come in, Fussen air traffic control,” she said in a broad, happy drawl. “Sure hope some of you boys speakee my language.”

After a short pause somebody answered in heavily accented English. “Unknown aircraft, identify please. You are not listed for landings.”

“You know it, my friend,” said Susan. “I was supposed to land at *mphrgrm* but they don’t have a ladies’ room, so I rerouted here.”

There was a short pause. “What was name of airport please?”

“You got that right!” said Susan cheerfully. “Anyway, sure hope you can put me in for an emergency landing, because I’ve had a lot of coffee this morning, and it’s definitely an emergency!” She sang the last word. Bond imagined the confusion on the other end and smiled.

The next pause was rather longer. “Unknown aircraft, you are cleared for emergency landing,” the voice said, perhaps just a trifle unhappily. Instructions on the landing vector were provided. Susan noted them and snickered to herself.

The white walls of Neuschwanstein were visible on the shoulder of a peak on the left. “Wow!” said Susan. “Now that’s what I call a castle!” The dramatic roofs and towers of the structure jutted from a ridge that overlooked a high mountain lake.

“Ludwig the Second was fond of it,” said Bond. “It was built as an homage to composer Richard Wagner, who may or may not have been the king’s lover.”

“What are you now, a tour guide?” teased Susan.

“I did some reading earlier,” said Bond. “The murals and other artwork in the place are supposed to be remarkable.” Bond didn’t mention that Weir’s book also said that the Nazis had held a great deal of stolen artwork there. The connection between the castle and Zoeller now seemed obvious.

The plane swept over Schwangau, a tiny alpine village, and continued on to Fussen, a more pedestrian flat-lander town with a rail station and access to river traffic. The airport had a single runway and a tower that would be better described as a shack on legs. Susan made an expert landing and taxied back to the small cluster of Quonset huts that marked the airport proper.

Bond nudged Susan and pointed. Next to the largest metal building was something draped in tarpaulins. The coverings could not conceal the distinctive outline of a C-47 airplane. Clearly the plane was too large to park inside any of the buildings; the airport was made for one- and two-seaters.

Susan allowed a man to signal her to a parking spot near the fuel depot. Susan and Bond deplaned and were met by a welcoming committee of three flustered, irritable-looking elderly men. Susan put on her best con-artist persona and went to work immediately. Bond decided to skip the show.

“Telephone?” he asked, pointing to the building that looked most like an office, on the basis that it had windows in it. One of the men nodded, and Bond trotted away, leaving Susan to weave her spell over the aviation committee of Fussen, who were already looking flummoxed. He entered the building and saw a counter with a great many calendars and timetables pegged above it, several unoccupied desks, and no minders. There was a door that led into a storage room for maintenance parts, and there was a back door that stood open. Bond slipped through it and doubled around behind the building to take a closer look at the parked plane.

Bond ducked under the tarpaulins and crept back to the serial number on the tail. It read AX-788, same as the plane that hauled the art out of Berlin. Bond opened the cargo hatch and peered inside.

The plane was empty. It couldn’t have arrived at Fussen very much earlier; with an optimal route, they must have landed no more than four hours ahead of Bond and Susan. They must have worked very fast to have all the paintings offloaded so quickly, Bond thought.

As Bond stepped down out of the plane, somebody kicked his feet out from under him. He fell to the ground hard and instinctively rolled under the aircraft. He slammed into somebody crouching there and punched them in the groin with all his strength. The unfortunate man cried out feebly and fell over, but somebody else kicked Bond in the kidneys. Bond fought down the pain and pulled out his revolver.

Arms clamped around him, pinning his upper arms to his body, while somebody else tackled his legs. Bond thrashed a foot clear and kicked a man in the face, but another assailant took his place. Then a bag was pulled over his head, and Bond could see nothing.

Zoeller’s wicked laugh was close, perhaps only an arm’s length away. “You fool,” said Zoeller. “I own this place. Nothing happens here that is not brought to my attention.”

“Susan!” shouted Bond, the cloth bag muffling his voice. Then something hard struck him in the back of the skull, and pain exploded down his spinal column. The world swam in a most inconvenient way, and darkness ushered Bond’s consciousness far down below light and sensibility.