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On His Majesty's Secret Service (19)
The hell of it was, Bond wasn’t sure if he hadn’t really been turned.

Zoeller had given him his gun back, and had provided him with documents that seemed to show that Bond now had several million pounds in a Swiss bank. As far as he could tell, Bond felt that Zoeller really felt he knew him well enough to believe that he could just hire him away from British Intelligence. He had the run of the castle, although there were secured basements he wasn’t allowed into, and Bond was reasonably sure he could escape any time he wanted.

But Bond wasn’t sure he wanted to escape. On the surface, he wanted to remain close to Zoeller so he could gather as much intelligence as possible about this new organization before shutting it down. But Bond was uneasily aware that Zoeller had struck a chord inside him. He certainly was an assassin, and although Bond took no special pleasure in killing, he had every person’s pride in being useful and effective. Bond knew that a man of his sort working for Zoeller would always be useful.

Bond had orders to leave for Paris on the following day. He had a new identity and papers that Zoeller had procured, and he had orders to kill three men who knew something about Zoeller’s organization but whose loyalties were suspect. Zoeller never told him the name of his organization and Bond didn’t ask.

Bond waited in his room. The window afforded an expansive view of the Bavarian countryside. Bond looked out over the peaceful green and rolling fields, and wondered how far he would take this charade. If it was a charade at all.

A faint scraping sound caught Bond’s attention. Nobody was in his room. Frowning, Bond pressed an ear to a wall. He heard something slide against stone and mortar, something inside a cavity in the wall. Bond drew his gun and pressed his back against the wall.

Something tapped quietly at the wall. Then one of the stones began to slide out of its socket, spilling loose grout on the floor. The stone pushed all the way out and landed on the ground with a dull thud. It was followed by a head of very dirty, cobwebby hair. It was Susan, and she wasn’t happy.

“You don’t look like a prisoner,” she said icily.

“I’m not,” Bond said. “I thought I was going to have to come and rescue you.”

“You already did that once,” said Susan, grunting as she wormed her shoulders through the hole. “Once was enough.”

“There were nine of us at first,” Susan explained. “There’s a huge network of tunnels under this place, and the basement houses, among other things, a prison complex.” She had changed out of her pilot’s coveralls, which hadn’t been cleaned for some time, and was wearing something revealing that belonged to Erma. It wasn’t in character for her, but Bond appreciated it anyway.

Bond snapped his fingers. “That’s what the Nazis did with their gold and artwork,” he said. “They were collecting it all here in Neuschwanstein. They had a secret base under the castle. When it was obvious the war was lost, they moved most of the gold and art down into the tunnels, leaving a small amount of both to be found. This threw off suspicion that there was any more of either.”

“Yeah,” said Susan. “Anyway, there are only six of us now. Some men came and took Greta earlier today. Poor girl, she’s only sixteen and she’s terrified out of her wits. None of the others know why they were captured or what we’re wanted for. All I know is, sometimes they come to get a girl, and they take her away, and she doesn’t come back.”

“That’s odd,” said Bond. “Are there any common traits among you?”

“We’re all women,” said Susan. “All below thirty. Otherwise, nothing I’m aware of. The girls were mostly kidnapped from urban centers all over Europe and North Africa. None are rich enough to be worth ransoming.”

“What about looks?” asked Bond.

“Yes, all the girls are good looking,” sighed Susan. “Of course that would be the obvious thing – selling girls off into prostitution or worse. But if that’s the plan, why keep us in a prison and take one of us at a time?”

Bond made a decision. “I don’t know,” he said, “but I think we’re going to find out. This deception of working for Zoeller has lasted long enough.” He put a jacket on that mostly concealed the big revolver in its holster under his armpit.

Susan cocked her head at him. “You were getting sucked in, weren’t you?” she said. Bond said nothing, straightening his tie and checking the line of his coat.

“Ha,” snorted Susan, clapping her hands. “Ha, ha. The fancy spy was tempted to be a fancy torpedo. That’s a good one, James.”

“I don’t see what’s so funny,” said Bond, embarrassed.

“What’s funny,” replied Susan, “is that I had to come and rescue YOU.”

“Ridiculous,” said Bond. “Let’s go and find out what’s going on with your girls.”

Bond looked out into the hall. No guards were in sight; Zoeller seemed to see little need for security in the upper floors of the castle. Bond led the way down the hall and to the ambitious grand staircase that wound its way down to the ground floor.

Bond heard voices and drew Susan back into the shadows on the stair. But it was only a tour group. After the war, Neuschwanstein had immediately become a tourist attraction – an attraction owned by Zoeller under an alias, apparently. Zoeller was able to use it as a base of operations while still letting sight-seeing functions occur in the facility. Certainly nobody would suspect that anything untoward was happening in a fairy-tale castle visited by thousands every year.

Bond and Susan descended to the ground floor and crept up behind the group of tourists. They joined in with the pack of gawkers and shutter-flies of all nationalities, and they listened as a droning tour guide explained the historical features of Neuschwanstein. Bond frowned as they passed a closed door; a faint buzzing noise seeped through the door-frame. Bond drew Susan aside and let the tour pass by; he picked the lock on the suspicious door and slipped inside.

The sterile white of the room beyond stood in stark contrast to the gay splendor of the castle’s décor. There were brushed stainless steel counters full of laboratory equipment, harsh white overhead lighting, and iceboxes arrayed in gleaming rows. “What the hell?” said Susan, wandering down the rows. Bond looked in the iceboxes. Bags of varying colors of fluids had frozen solid.

There was a door on the far side of the room. Bond cracked it open, then let his revolver lead the way through it. The room beyond resembled a hospital patient room and was dominated by a gurney. There was a girl lying on it, connected via tubes and wires to trays of equipment on her left and right. Susan gasped and ran to her side. “Greta!” she cried.

Greta was dead; her eyes were open. Her body seemed sunken and her flesh shriveled; a centrifuge whirling quietly on a side table seemed to be spinning her blood products. Horror overcame Susan; she stood wide-eyed over the body of her fellow captive, hands shaking, incapable of deciding what to disconnect or how to make anything better. Bond closed Greta’s eyes; the lids were stiff.

A door opened and Bond whirled. Erma wore a flowing white robe, something like a kimono, but she had rubber gloves on that went past her elbows. She carried a steel hypodermic the size of a glue-gun. Erma and Bond stared at each other, stunned. It was Susan who broke the paralysis.

“You killed her, you bitch!” she screamed. Susan picked up the heavy centrifuge and hurled it across the room at Erma; Erma squeaked and fled back through the door. Bond gave chase.

The suite of rooms on the other side was a spa. Two women lay on tables, swathed in towels and covered with an oily blue lotion. A small army of pampering attendants fussed around them; one woman was having a massage and a pedicure, while the other was receiving some kind of dermal treatment. A man in dentists’ whites was jabbing a needle into her, and what appeared to be an air compressor was blowing puffs of air under the top layer of her skin. It looked painful.

Bond dashed after Erma and grabbed her with one hand, brandishing his gun with the other. The spa devolved into chaos as the attendants and clients panicked in unison. “Let me go, you’re hurting me!” sobbed Erma.

“You killed that girl. Why?” Bond demanded.

“It was Doctor Stemmer who got me into it,” cried Erma. “He’s a cosmetic surgeon, and a brilliant one. He did several procedures for me, and it helped, but the most miraculous treatments required no surgery – only transfusions of tissue. Collagen and plasma. I’m young again, James! It’s a miraculous thing – to have my youth and beauty back! And these other people – what they won’t pay to become young again too!”

“It’s insane, Erma,” Bond said quietly. “What you’re doing is madness.” He and Erma locked eyes, and in her gaze Bond saw that Erma knew he was right, had known it all along – but didn’t care.

A shot rang out, and a thousand wasps stung Bond in the scalp. He knew he had been hit, but only grazed, by a pistol shot at close range. Bond dropped to the ground and rolled behind a divan. There – the muzzle of a gun protruding from behind a curtain. Bond fired into it, and a body fell forwards into the room, pulling the hanging down with him. It was one of Zoeller’s thugs, and behind him stood Zoeller and two more men with guns.

Susan burst into the room and her eyes fell upon Erma. She rolled up the sleeves of her slinky gown. “You,” she grated, advancing menacingly.

Erma’s eyes narrowed, and she brought the huge hypodermic to bear like a dagger. “You,” she echoed, closing on Susan. Susan realized she had no weapon, yelped, and dodged behind one of the spa stations.

“Kill him,” said Zoeller coldly. “Kill the traitor.” He stepped behind his men and into what appeared to be a hidden doorway behind where the curtain had hung. His men shot into the divan, punching holes in the cushions and sending up showers of batting and feathers. Bond ducked down as bullets tore the couch apart and ripped up the wall above him.

Erma jabbed at Susan with the long needle. Susan didn’t know what was in the hypodermic and didn’t want to find out. She ducked one blow and then put the bed between her and Erma. Erma shoved the bed into Susan, pinning her to the wall, and stabbed down with the long metal point. Susan fouled Erma’s aim by blocking her arm out; even so, the needle sunk into the bed’s cushion, missing Susan but trapping the cuff of her sleeve.

Bond looked under the divan; there was a gap of several inches between the bottom of the springs and the floor. He could see the shoes of Zoeller’s men. Bond shot each of them in one foot, then stood up and fired into their prone bodies. He pushed past the couch and looked into the exit that Zoeller had taken. There was a narrow spiral staircase going up; Zoeller couldn’t be seen, but Bond could hear the scuffing of his feet and the panting of his breath, not far above him.

With her trapped hand, Susan seized Erma’s weapon-wielding wrist and pulled her halfway across the bed. With her other hand she grabbed the pneumatic needle that the clinician had been using on the client and stabbed Erma in the eye. Air hissed loudly and Erma gasped. Susan held down the button on the probe and pumped air continuously into Erma’s skull. Odd wheezing noises came out of Bond’s former lover, and from his angle it looked like Erma’s beautiful face was actually bulging outwards.

“Go!” shouted Susan. Bond recovered his wits and started up the stair after Zoeller.

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(Deleted comment)
That's probably right. Fixed.

"an attraction owned by Zoeller under an alibi, "

an alias?

"As far as he could tell, Bond felt that Zoeller really felt " That line just seems cluttered.

Erma’s beautiful face was actually bulging outwards. well, that's gruesome.

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