after more than an hour of fast walking in a southwesterly direction, crossing a few fields and roads with Gaby's Schmeisser cocked and ready and Michael's ears pricked for sounds, she said, "We wait here."
They were in a stand of trees at the edge of a clearing, and Michael could see a single stone farmhouse ahead. The house was a ruin, its roof collapsed; destroyed, perhaps, by an errant allied bomb, a mortar shell, or German SS troopers hunting partisans. Even the earth around the house had been charred by fire, and a few blackened stubs of trees were all that remained of an orchard.
"You sure you have the right placei" Michael asked her; a pointless question, and her chilly gaze told him so.
"We're ahead of schedule," she explained, kneeling down with the Schmeisser across her lap. "We won't be able to go in for..." She paused while she checked the luminous hands on her wristwatch. "Twelve minutes."
Michael knelt beside her, impressed by her directional skills. How had she navigatedi By the stars, of course, or else she simply knew the route by heart. But though they were apparently where they were supposed to be by a given time, there was nothing in the area but the single destroyed farmhouse. "You must've had some experience with tanks," he said.
"Not really. I had a German lover who was the commander of a tank crew. I learned everything from him."
Michael lifted his brows. "Everythingi"
She glanced quickly at him, then away again; his eyes seemed to glow like the hands of her watch, and they held steady. "It was necessary that I... do my duty for the benefit of my country," she said, a little shakily. "The man had information about a truck convoy." She felt him watching her. "I did what I was supposed to do. That's all."
He nodded. The man, she'd said. No name, no emotion. This war was as clean as a slashed throat. "I'm sorry about what happened at the village. I-"
"Forget it," she interrupted. "You're not to blame."
"I watched the old man die," he went on. He'd seen death before, of course. Many times. But the cold precision of Boots's kicks and stomps still made his insides writhe. "Who was the man who killed himi Harzer called him Boots."
"Boots is-was-Harzer's bodyguard. an SS-trained killer. Now that Harzer's dead, they'll probably assign Boots to some other officer, perhaps on the Eastern Front." Gaby paused, staring at a fragile glint of moonlight on the Schmeisser's barrel. "The old man-Gervaise-was my uncle. He was my last blood relative. My mother, father, and two brothers were killed by the Nazis in 1940." It was stated as hard fact, without any hint of emotion. The emotion, Michael thought, had been burned out of her as surely as the life in that orchard.
"If I'd known that," Michael said, "I would have-"
"No, you wouldn't have," she told him sharply. "You would have done just as you did, or your mission would be over and you'd be dead. My village would be burned to the ground anyway, and all the people there executed. My uncle knew the risks. He was the man who brought me into the underground." Her gaze met his. "Your mission is the important thing. One life, ten lives, a village lost-it doesn't matter. We have a greater purpose." She looked away from his gleaming, penetrating eyes. If she could tell herself that over and over, it might make death more than senseless, she thought. But deep down in her charred soul, she doubted it.
"It's time to go in," Gaby said when she checked her watch again.
They crossed the clearing, Gaby ready with the Schmeisser and Michael sniffing the air. He smelled hay, burned grass, the apple-wine fragrance of Gaby's hair, but no odor of sweating skin that might've meant soldiers hiding in ambush. as Michael followed Gaby into the ruined farmhouse, he caught just a hint of a strange oily smell; a metallic odor, he thought. Oil on metali She led him through the tangle of broken timbers and stones to a heap of ashes. He found the oily metal smell again, around this ash pile. Gaby knelt down and inserted her hand into the ashes; Michael heard the hinges of a little compartment open. The ashes were not all entirely ashes, but a cleverly painted and arranged mass of camouflaged rubber. Gaby's fingers found an oiled flywheel, which she turned to the right several revolutions. Then she drew her hand out, and Michael heard the noise of latches being unbolted under the farmhouse floor. Gaby stood up. a hatch smoothly lifted, the rubber ashes piled on top of it. Oil gleamed on metal hinges and gears, and there were wooden steps descending into the earth.
"Entrez," a dark-haired, sallow young Frenchman said, and motioned Michael down the stairs into, literally, the underground.
Michael entered the hatch, with Gaby following right behind him. another man, this one older, with a grizzled gray beard, was standing in the passageway ahead, holding a lantern. The first man closed the hatch and spun the flywheel shut from the inside, then threw three latches. The corridor was narrow and low-ceilinged, and Michael had to crouch as he followed the man with the lantern.
Then they came to another descending stairway, this one made of stone. The earthen walls were chunks of rough, ancient rock. at the bottom of the steps was a large chamber and a series of corridors snaking off in different directions. Some kind of medieval fortress, Michael assumed. Light bulbs hung from cables overhead and gave off a dim glow. From somewhere else came whirring noises, like sewing machines at work. On a large table in the chamber, laid out under the light bulbs, was a map; Michael approached it, and saw the streets of Paris. Voices swelled, people talking in another room. a typewriter or coding machine clacked. an attractive older woman came into the chamber with a file folder, which she deposited in one of several filing cabinets. She glanced quickly at Michael, nodded at Gaby, and went back to her business.
"Well, laddie," someone said in English, a voice like the rasp of a handsaw, "you ain't a Scotsman, but you'll have to do."
Michael had heard heavy footsteps a few seconds before the voice, so he wasn't startled. He turned, and faced a red-bearded giant in a kilt.
"Pearly McCarren, at your service," the man said, with a rolling Scots burr that made spittle and steam fly out of his mouth into the chilly underground air. "King of Scottish France. Which is from that wall to the one yonder," he added, and brayed with laughter. "Hey, andre!" he said to the man who'd carried the lantern. "How about breakin' out a good glass o' wine for me and me guest, ehi" The man left the room through one of the corridors. "That's not really his name," McCarren told Michael, holding his hand to his mouth as if he were confiding a secret, "but I canna pronounce most of their monickers, so I call 'em all andre, ehi"
"I see," Michael said, and had to smile.
"You had a little problem, didn't yai" McCarren turned his attention to Gaby. "Bastards been chewin' up the radio for the last hour. They almost clip your tailsi"
"almost," she answered in English. "Uncle Gervaise is dead." She didn't wait for an expression of sympathy. "So is Harzer, and quite a few other Nazis. Our associate is a good shot. We also took out a tank: a panzerkampfwagen two, bearing the organizational symbol of the Twelfth SS Panzer Division."
"Good work." He scribbled a note on a pad, tore off the page, and pressed a little bell beside his chair at the map table. "We'd best let our friends know the SS Panzer boys are prowlin' around. Those Mark Twos are old machines; they must be scrapin' the barrel's bottom." He handed the note to the woman who'd brought the file folder, and she hurried off again. "Sorry about your uncle," McCarren said. "He did a helluva fine job. You get Bootsi"
She shook her head. "Harzer was the important target."
"Right you are. Still, it hurts my soul to know that big son of a bitch is alive and kickin'. as the sayin' goes." His pale blue eyes, set in a moon-shaped, jowly face the color of Dover chalk, fixed on Michael. "Come over here and take a look at the noose you're gonna be stickin' your neck into."
Michael walked around the table and stood beside McCarren, who towered at least three inches over him and seemed as broad as a barn door. McCarren wore a brown sweater with patches on the elbows, and a dark blue and green kilt: the colors of the Black Watch regiment. His hair was a few shades darker than his unruly beard, which was the orange hue of flint sparks. "Our friend adam lives here." McCarren jabbed a thick finger down on the maze of boulevards, avenues, and winding side streets. "a gray stone buildin' on the Rue Tobas. Hell, they're all gray stone, ain't theyi anyway, he lives in apartment number eight, on the corner. adam's a filin' clerk, works on the staff of a minor German officer who processes supplies for the Nazis in France-food, clothes, writin' paper, fuel, and bullets. You can learn a lot about troops from what the high command's supplyin' 'em with." He tapped the street maze. "adam walks to work every day, along this route." Michael watched as the finger traced the Rue Tobas, turned onto the Rue St. Fargeau and then ended on the avenue Gambetta. "The buildin's here, surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire on top of it."
"adam's still workingi" Michael asked. "Even though the Gestapo knows he's a spyi"
"Right. I doubt they're givin' him anythin' but busy work to do, though. Look here." McCarren picked up a folder lying beside the map and flipped it open. Inside were grainy, blown-up black-and-white photographs, which he handed to Michael. They were pictures of two men, one wearing a suit and tie, the other in a light jacket and beret. "These Gestapo men follow adam everywhere. If not those in particular, then others. They've got an apartment in the buildin' across from his, and they watch his place all the time. We've also got to assume they have the phone lines fixed so they can listen in on his calls." McCarren's gaze met Michael's. "They're waitin', ya see."
Michael nodded. "Waiting to take two birds with one stone."
"Right. and maybe from those two birds they hope to find the whole nest, which would put us out of business at a crucial time. anyway, they got wind adam knows somethin', and they sure don't want that information gettin' out."
"Do you know anything about what it might bei"
"No. and neither does anybody in the underground. as soon as the Gestapo found out he knew whatever it is, they started ridin' him like ticks on a terrier."
The gray-bearded Frenchman McCarren had called andre brought a dusty bottle of Burgundy and three glasses. He set them on the table next to the map of Paris, and then left them while McCarren poured a glass of wine for Michael, Gaby, and then himself. "To killing Nazis," McCarren said, lifting his glass. "and to the memory of Henri Gervaise." Michael and Gaby joined him in the toast. McCarren swallowed the wine quickly. "So you see your problem, mani" McCarren inquired. "The Gestapo's got adam in an invisible cage."
Michael sipped the harsh, strong wine and studied the map. "adam goes to work and comes back along this same route every dayi" he asked.
"Yes. I can give you a timetable if you need it."
"I will." Michael's gaze followed the path of intersecting streets. "We must reach adam while he's walking either to work or to his apartment," he decided.
"Forget it." McCarren sloshed a little more wine into his glass. "We've thought of that already. We were plannin' on pullin' up in a car, shootin' the Gestapo bastards down, and gettin' him the hell out of there, but-"
"But," Michael interrupted, "you realized adam would be shot first if any other Gestapo men besides these two were trailing him, and you'd never get him out of Paris alive even if he did survive the pickup. In addition, whoever was in that car would most likely be riddled with bullets or captured by the Gestapo, which would not be very good for the underground. Correcti"
"More or less," McCarren said, with a shrug of his massive shoulders.
"So how can adam be contacted on the streeti" Gaby asked. "anyone who even stops him for a few seconds would be picked up immediately."
"I don't know," Michael admitted. "But it seems to me we've got to do this in two steps. First we must alert adam that someone's come to help him. The second step is getting him out, which may be..." he grunted softly. "Tricky."
"Right-o," McCarren said. He had dismissed his glass and was swigging the Burgundy from the bottle. "That's what me and me mates in the Black Watch regiment said at Dunkirk four years ago, when the Nazis backed us up against the coast. We said it'd be a trick to get out, but we were gonna do it, by God." He smiled bitterly. "Well, most of 'em are lyin' six feet under, and I'm still in France." He swigged again, then thunked the bottle back down on the table. "We've pondered this thing over a lot of different ways, my friend. anybody who goes after adam is gonna get nabbed by the Gestapo. Period."
"You have a picture of him, of course," Michael said. Gaby opened another file folder and presented him with black-and-white photographs-front face and profile shots, the kind of pictures on identity cards-of an unsmiling, slender blond man in his mid-forties, with a wan, washed-out appearance and round wire-framed spectacles. adam was the type of man who blended into white wallpaper, no distinguishing marks, no personality in his expression, nothing but a face you would usually forget after seeing it. an accountant, Michael thought. Or a bank teller. Michael scanned the typed dossier, written in French, of the agent code-named adam. Five feet ten inches tall. a hundred and thirty-six pounds. ambidextrous. Interests include collecting stamps, gardening, and opera. Relatives in Berlin. One sister in...
Michael glanced back at one word: opera. "adam attends the Paris operai" he asked.
"all the time," McCarren answered. "He doesn't have a lot of money, but he spends most of it on that caterwaulin' nonsense."
"He shares a box at the opera house with two other men," Gaby said, beginning to see what Michael was driving toward. "We can find the exact box, if you like."
"Could we get a message to either of adam's friendsi"
She thought about that for a moment, then shook her head. "No. Too risky. as far as we know, they're not his friends, just civil service employees who rent the box with him. Either one of them might be working for the Gestapo."
Michael returned his attention to the photographs of adam and made sure he knew every inch of that bland, expressionless face. Behind it, he thought, something very important was locked away. He could smell that now, as surely as he could smell the Burgundy on Pearly McCarren's breath and the musky scent of gunsmoke on Gaby's skin. "I'll find a way to get to him," Michael said.
"In broad daylighti" McCarren lifted his shaggy, flame-colored eyebrows. "With the Nazis watchin'i"
"Yes," Michael answered, with authority. He held McCarren's gaze for a few seconds, and the Scotsman grunted and looked away. How he was going to fulfill his mission, Michael didn't know yet, but there had to be a way. He hadn't jumped out of a damned airplane, he reasoned, to call it quits just because the situation appeared impossible. "I'll need an identity card and the proper road passes," he said. "I don't want to be picked up before I get to Paris."
"Follow me." McCarren motioned him through a corridor into another room, where a camera was set up on a tripod and a couple of men were working at a table, carefully inking in the last touches on forged Nazi passes and ID cards. "You'll get your picture taken and we'll make your cards look well used," McCarren explained. "The boys here are old hands at this. Come on, through here." He went on into the next chamber, where Michael saw racks of various Nazi uniforms, bolts of field-gray and green cloth, caps and helmets and boots. Three women were busy at sewing machines, stitching on buttons and insignias. "You'll be a communications officer, in charge of keepin' the phone lines workin'. By the time you leave here, you'll know everythin' about the Germans' wire systems, and you'll be able to recite your units and their locations in your sleep. That'll be two days of intensive study. also time for the Jerries to settle down upstairs. You'll go to Paris with a driver. One of my andres. We've got a nice shiny staff car hidden not too far from here. The big chief says you know your German, so startin' at oh-eight-hundred hours that's all you'll be speakin'." He dug out a pocket watch and flipped it open. "Which gives you about four hours to wash up and get some sleep. I expect you'll need it."
Michael nodded. Four hours was more than enough sleep for him, and he wanted to get the war paint and dust off his face. "You've got a shower down herei"
"Not quite." McCarren smiled faintly and glanced at Gaby, who had followed them in. "This place was built by the Romans, back when Caesar was a big chief. They liked their baths. Gaby, will you take charge of our friendi"
"This way," Gaby said, and started out of the chamber with Michael a few paces behind.
"Gabyi" McCarren waited until she'd stopped and looked at him. "You did a damned fine job out there."
"Merci," she answered, with no hint of pleasure at being praised. Her sapphire-blue eyes, stunning in her dusty, chiseled face, focused on Michael Gallatin. They regarded him with nothing but cool, professional respect. One killer to another, Michael thought. He was glad they were both fighting on the same side. "Follow me," she told him, and he did, through the chilly underground corridors.