The man who peered in through the rolled-down window at Michael Gallatin had blue eyes so pale they were almost without color, his face chiseled and handsome in the way of a Nordic athlete-a skier, Michael thought. Perhaps a javelin thrower, or a long-distance runner. There were fine lines around his eyes, and his blond sideburns were going gray. He wore a dark leather hat with a jaunty red feather in its band. "Good morning, Colonel," he said. "a small inconvenience, I fear. May I see your papersi"
"I hope the inconvenience is small," Michael answered icily. The other man's face kept its thin, polite smile. as Michael reached into his coat for his packet of papers, he saw a soldier take up a position directly on the other side of the car. The soldier's submachine gun barrel wandered slightly toward the window, and Michael felt a knot of tension clench in his throat. The soldier was staking out his lane of fire; there was no way Michael could pull the Luger from his holster without being shot to tatters.
Gaby kept her hands on the wheel. The Gestapo agent took Michael's papers and glanced in at Gaby. "Your papers also, pleasei"
"She's my secretary," Michael said.
"Of course. But I must see her papers." He shrugged. "Regulations, you know."
Gaby reached into her coat. She brought out a packet of papers that had been made for her yesterday, when she'd decided to go to Paris with him. She handed them over with a crisp nod.
"Thank you." The Gestapo agent began to inspect the photographs and documents. Michael watched the man's face. It was a cold face, and it was stamped with a cunning intelligence; this man was no fool, and he'd seen all the tricks. Michael glanced toward the roadside, and saw Lieutenant Krabell and his driver there. The driver was checking the engine as Krabell's papers were being laboriously examined by another Gestapo agent.
"What's the problemi" Michael asked.
"Haven't you heardi" The blond-haired man looked up from his reading, his eyes quizzical.
"If I had, would I be askingi"
"For a communications officer, you're certainly out of touch." a brief smile, a hint of square white predator's teeth. "But of course you know there was a parachute drop in this sector three nights ago. The partisans in a village called Bazancourt helped the man escape. There was also a woman involved." His gaze slid toward Gaby. "Do you speak German, my deari" he asked her in French.
"a little," she answered. Her voice was cool, and Michael admired her courage. She looked the man straight in the eyes and didn't waver. "What do you want me to sayi"
"Your papers speak for you." He continued his inspection, taking his time about it.
"What's your namei" Michael decided to take the offensive. "I'd like to know who to lodge my complaint against when we get to Paris."
"Johlmann. Heinz, middle initial R for Richter." The man kept reading, not intimidated in the least. "Colonel, who's your superior commanderi"
"adolf Hitler," Michael said.
"ah, yes. Of course." again, that brief show of teeth. They looked like they were good at tearing meat. "I mean your immediate superior in the field."
Michael's palms were damp, but his heart had stopped pounding. He was in control of himself, and he would not be rushed. He glanced quickly at the soldier on the other side of the car, still holding the submachine gun ready, his finger on the trigger guard. "I report to Major General Friedrich Bohm, Fourteenth Sector Communications, headquarters in abbeville. Our radio code is 'Tophat.' "
"Thank you. I can get through to Major General Bohm in about ten minutes on our radio equipment." He motioned toward the armored car.
"Be my guest. I'm sure he'd like to hear why I'm being interrogated." Michael stared up at Johlmann. Their eyes met, and locked. The moment stretched, and in it Gaby felt a scream pressing behind her teeth.
Johlmann smiled and looked away. He studied the photographs of the colonel and his secretary. "ah!" he said speaking to Michael, his cold eyes brightening. "You're an austrian! From Braugdonau, yesi"
"Well, that's amazing! I know Braugdonau!"
Gaby felt as if she'd just taken a punch to the stomach. Her Luger. So close. Could she get to it before the soldier sprayed her with bulletsi She feared she couldn't, so she didn't move.
"I have a cousin in Essen!" Johlmann said, still smiling. "Just west of your hometown. I've been through Braugdonau several times. They have a very fine winter carnival."
"Yes, they do." a skier, he decided.
"Good snow on those mountains. Hard-packed. You don't have to worry about avalanches so much. Thank you, my dear." He returned Gaby's papers to her. She took them and put them away, noting that a couple of other soldiers had wandered closer to have a glimpse of her. Johlmann carefully folded Michael's papers. "I remember the fountain in Braugdonau. You know. Where the statues of the Ice King and Queen are." His teeth flashed. "Yesi"
"I'm afraid you're mistaken." Michael held out his hand for his papers. "There is no fountain in Braugdonau, Herr Johlmann. I think it's time for us to be on our way now."
"Well," Johlmann said with a shrug, "I suppose I am mistaken, after all." He slid the packet into Michael's hand, and Michael was very glad he'd listened to all the details McCarren had given him about the layout and history of Braugdonau. Michael's fingers closed around the papers, but Johlmann wouldn't let the documents go. "I don't have a cousin in Essen, Colonel," he said. "a white lie, and I hope you'll pardon my presumption. But you know, I have been skiing in that area before. Beautiful place. That very famous run about twenty kilometers north of Essen." His smile came back, and it was a horrible happiness. "Surely you know it. The Grandfather. Yesi"
He knows, Michael thought. He smells the British in my skin. Michael felt poised on the edge of a precipice, and beneath him were slavering jaws. Damn it, why hadn't he slid the Luger next to him on the seati Johlmann was waiting for his answer, his head cocked slightly to one side, the red feather stirring in the breeze.
"Herr Johlmanni" the soldier with the submachine gun said. His voice was nervous. "Herr Johlmann, you'd better-"
"Yes," Michael said. His stomach clenched. "The Grandfather."
Johlmann's smile flicked off. "Oh, no. I'm afraid I meant the Grandmother."
"Herr Johlmann!" the soldier shouted. Two other soldiers yelled out, and ran for the trees. The armored car's engine started with a roar. Johlmann looked up. "What the hell is going-" and then he heard the high whine just as Michael did, and he twisted around to see the glint of silver diving toward the roadblock.
Fighter plane, Michael realized. Coming down fast. The soldier with the submachine gun shouted, "Take cover!" and ran for the roadside. Johlmann, sputtering with anger, called, "Wait! Wait, you!" But the soldiers were running for the trees and the armored car was scrambling like an iron roach for cover, and Johlmann cursed and dug into his coat for his pistol as he whirled back to face the false colonel.
But Michael's hand had grown a Luger. as Johlmann's pistol rose, Michael thrust the Luger's barrel into Johlmann's face and pulled the trigger.
There was a whoosh like an oncoming avalanche, a chatter of machine-gun bullets from an aircraft's wing guns, and in that instant the sound of the Luger going off was silenced by the larger weapons. Two columns of bullets marched alongside the road, straddling the Mercedes and sending sparks flying, and Heinz Richter Johlmann, ex-Gestapo, staggered back with a single smoking hole in the center of his forehead, just below his jaunty hat. Michael had his papers gripped in his other hand, and as the fighter plane's shadow swept across the earth Johlmann fell to his knees with blood beginning to run down his shock-frozen face. His head sagged forward. His hat, full of gray brains, fell off, and the fighter plane's fierce hot breeze blew the red feather before it like a bloody exclamation mark.
"Krabell!" Michael shouted. The young lieutenant had been about to run for the trees, his driver unable to get the motorcycle's engine started. He turned toward the Mercedes. "This man's been hit!" Michael said. "Get a medic-but first move that damned barricade!"
Krabell and the driver hesitated, wanting to run for cover before the fighter came back for another strafing pass. "Do as I say!" Michael commanded, and the two Germans scrambled to the wooden barricade. They moved it aside, Krabell searching the sky with his goggled eyes, and then Michael heard the deadly whine of the plane coming down for a second attack. "Go!" he told Gaby. She pressed her foot to the floorboard, and the car lunged forward, passing Krabell and the motorcyclist and roaring through the opened barricade. Then the two Germans fled for the trees, beneath which the others had thrown themselves to the ground. as Gaby raced them along the road, Michael glanced back and saw the bright glint of sun on the plane's wings. It was an american aircraft, a P-47 Thunderbolt, and it looked to be headed right for the Mercedes. He saw the fireflash of the machine guns, bullets marching along the road and throwing up gravel. Gaby swerved the car violently to the left, its tires going off the road into grass. There was a wham! that Michael felt at the base of his spine, and Gaby fought to keep control of the wheel. We're hit! she thought, but the engine was still roaring, so she kept the speed up. Dust boiled into the car, blinding Michael for a few seconds. When it cleared, Michael saw two shafts of sunlight entering the roof through jagged holes in the metal, and a chunk of the rear windshield the size of his fist had been blown away. Fragments of glass were scattered all over the seat beside him and glittered in the folds of his coat. Gaby saw the glint of sun along the Thunderbolt's wings as the aircraft turned in a tight circle. "Coming back again!" she shouted.
He had not come all this distance to be killed by an american fighter pilot. "There!" he said, grasping Gaby's shoulder and pointing toward an apple orchard on the right.
Gaby spun the wheel, veering the Mercedes across the road and into a flimsy wooden fence that banged the front fender but burst apart to give them passage. She drove past an abandoned hay wagon into the shadows of the orchard, and three seconds later the Thunderbolt zoomed overhead, its bullets chopping branches and white buds from the trees but none of them hitting the Mercedes. Gaby stopped the car and put on the hand brake. Her heart was hammering, her throat scratchy with dust. She looked at the bullet holes in the roof, their exits marked by a hole in the passenger seat and another hole in the floorboard. She felt a vague, dreamy sensation that she thought might be the first cat-feet creepings of shock. Then she closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the steering wheel.
The plane screamed above them again. No guns were fired this time, and Michael's muscles untensed. He watched the Thunderbolt turn west and dart toward another target, possibly a movement of soldiers or the armored car. The Thunderbolt dove, its guns firing, then it quickly gained altitude and zoomed away, heading west toward the coast.