Michael dismounted, and the springs mewled softly. He leaned the rusted Peugeot bicycle against a street lamp at the intersection of the Rue de Belleville and the Rue des Pyrenees, and he checked his pocket watch in the yellow glow. Nine-forty-three. Camille had said the curfew began at eleven o'clock sharp. after that time the German military police-the rough, hard-nosed bastards-roamed the streets. He kept his head down, studying his watch, as Gaby slowly pedaled past him, going southeast on the Pyrenees. The darkness took her.
apartment buildings, most of them once elegant homes decorated with statuary, stood around him, furtive lights gleaming in some of their windows. The avenue was quiet but for a few velo taxis and a horse-drawn carriage or two. On their ride from Montmartre through the twisting streets, Michael and Gaby had seen many German soldiers, strolling the boulevards in rowdy groups or sitting in sidewalk cafes like drunken lords. They'd seen, as well, a number of troop transport trucks and armored cars scuttling busily over the paved stones. But Michael and Gaby, in their new disguises, attracted no attention. Michael wore his patched pants, a blue shirt, and a dark brown corduroy coat that had seen better days; on his feet were the scuffed black shoes, and on his head a brown cap. Gaby wore black slacks, a yellow blouse, and a bulky gray sweater that hid the bulge of her Luger. They wore the outfits of regular, struggling Paris citizens, whose main concern was getting food on the table rather than the dictates of European fashion.
Michael gave her a moment or two more, then he got on his bicycle and pedaled after her, between the aged and sand stone beauties. Much of the statuary was broken, he saw. Some of it had been wrestled up from its moorings and stolen away, probably to grace Nazi dwellings. Michael pedaled at a slow, steady pace. a carriage went past, heading in the opposite direction, the horse's hooves clopping on the pavement. Michael came to the sign marking the Rue Tobas, and he swung the bicycle to the right.
The buildings here were crowded close, and there were few lights. This district, once wealthy, had the air of decay and dissolution. Some of the windows were broken and mended with tape, and much of the carved masonry had either collapsed or been removed. Michael thought of a ballet dancer whose legs had become bloated and thick with veins. Headless statues stood in a fountain that held bits of trash and old newspapers instead of water. a stone wall screamed a black Nazi swastika and the painted words DEUTSCHLaND SIEGT aN aLLEN FRONTEN-"Germany Victorious on all Fronts." We'll soon see, Michael thought as he pedaled past.
He knew this street, had studied it well on the map. Coming up on the right was a gray building-once a stately home-with broken stone steps sweeping up from the curb. He knew this building, too. He kept pedaling and quickly glanced up. On the second floor light crept through the blinds of a corner window. apartment number eight. adam was in that room. and Michael didn't look, but he was aware of the gray stone building across the street, too, where the Gestapo had their watchmen. No pedestrians were on the street, and Gaby had already pedaled on ahead to wait for him. Michael moved past adam's building, sensing he was being watched. Possibly from the roof of the building opposite adam's. Possibly from a darkened window. This was a mouse trap, Michael thought. adam was the cheese, and the cats were licking their whiskers.
He stopped pedaling and let the bicycle coast across the cracked pavement. His peripheral vision caught a flare of light to his left. Someone standing in a doorway, holding a match to a cigarette. The match went out, and smoke plumed. Meow, Michael thought. He kept going, head down, and he saw an alley coming up on his right. He guided the bike toward the alley, turned into it, pedaled about twenty feet farther, and then stopped. He leaned the Peugeot against a wall of gray bricks and walked back to the alley entrance, facing the Rue Tobas, then crouched down on his haunches beside a group of garbage cans and stared across the street at the doorway where the Gestapo man stood smoking his cigarette. a tiny red circle waxed and waned in the night. Michael saw the man, clad in a dark overcoat and hat, outlined in a faint blue haze. Seven or eight minutes crept by. a crack of light drew Michael's attention, and he looked up at a window on the third floor. Someone had just drawn aside a black curtain perhaps three or four inches; the curtain was held open for only a few seconds, then fell back into place again and the light was gone.
Michael reasoned that several teams of Gestapo men kept adam's apartment under watch all hours of the day and night. From that third-floor surveillance post they had a clear view of the Rue Tobas, and could see anyone going in or coming out of adam's building. They probably had listening devices in adam's apartment as well, and certainly had his telephone tapped. So the contact would have to get a message to adam along his walk to work; but how was that going to be possible with the Gestapo dogging his traili
Michael stood up and stepped back into the alley, still watching the cigarette smoker. The man didn't see him; his attention drifted back and forth along the street in a relaxed, even bored, vigilance. and then Michael took two more backward steps, and he smelled it.
Someone was behind him. Someone very quiet, but now Michael could hear a faint, raspy breathing.
and suddenly a knife blade was jabbed against his spine. "Give me your money," a man's voice said in French with a thick German accent.
a thief, Michael thought. an alley prowler. He had no wallet to surrender, and any struggle would certainly crash the garbage cans over and cause the Gestapo man to take interest. He decided what to do in the passing of an instant. He drew himself up to full height and said softly in German, "Do you want to diei"
There was a pause. Then: "I said... give me your..." The voice cracked. The thief was scared to death.
"Take the knife away from my back," Michael said calmly, "or in three seconds I'll kill you."
One second passed. Two. Michael tensed, ready to whirl around.
The knife's pressure against his spine was gone.
He heard the thief running, back along the alley toward its other entrance on the Rue de la Chine. His first thought was to let the man go, but an idea sparked in his mind and grew incandescent. He turned and ran after the thief; the man was fast, but not fast enough. Before the thief could get to the Rue de la Chine, Michael reached out, grabbed the tall of his flagging, dirty overcoat and almost yanked him out of his shoes. The man-all five feet two inches of him-spun around with a muffled curse and swung the knife without aiming. The edge of Michael's hand cracked against his wrist, knocking the blade out of his spasming fingers. Then he picked the little man up and slammed him against the gray brick wall.
The thief's eyes bulged, pale blue under a mop of dirty brown hair. Michael held his collar and clamped a hand over the man's mouth and grizzled chin. "Silence," he whispered. Off in the alley somewhere, a cat screeched and ran for cover. "Don't struggle," Michael said, still speaking German. "You're not going anywhere. I want to ask you some questions, and I want to hear the truth from you. Do you understandi"
The thief, terrified and shivering, nodded.
"all right, I'm going to take my hand away from your mouth. You shout once, and I'll break your neck." He shook the man hard, for emphasis, then dropped the hand away. The thief made a soft moaning sound. "You're Germani" Michael asked. The thief nodded. "a deserteri" a pause; then a nod. "How long have you been in Parisi"
"Six months. Please... please let me go. I didn't stick you, did Ii"
He'd been able to hide in Paris, surrounded by Germans, for six months. a good sign, Michael thought. "Don't whine. What else do you do besides try to stick peoplei You steal bread from markets, maybe a few pieces of fruit here and there, a pie or two off a shelfi"
"Yes, yes. all that. Please... I'm no good as a soldier. I've got weak nerves. Please, just let me go. all righti"
"No. Do you pick pocketsi"
"Some. When I have to." The thief's eyes narrowed. "Wait. Who are youi Not military police. What's your game, huhi"
Michael ignored him. "are you any good at picking pocketsi"
The thief grinned, a false show of toughness. Under his grizzle and all that street grime, he was perhaps in his mid to late forties. The Germans were indeed scraping the bottom of the barrel for soldiers. "I'm still alive, aren't Ii Now who the hell are youi" His eyes glittered with a thought. "ah! Of course. The underground, yesi"
"I'll ask the questions. are you a Nazii"
The man laughed harshly. He spat a wad of phlegm onto the alley stones. "are you a corpse fuckeri"
Michael gave a faint smile. Maybe he and the thief weren't on the same side, but they shared sentiments. He lowered the man to his feet, but kept his hand clenched in the grimy collar. Up at the Rue de la Chine side of the alley, Gaby turned in on her bicycle. "Hey!" she whispered urgently. "What's wrongi"
"I've met someone," Michael said, "who may be useful to us."
"Mei Useful to the undergroundi Ha!" The little man pushed at Michael's hand, and Michael unclenched his fingers. "You two can rot in hell, for all I care!"
"If I were you, I'd keep my voice down." Michael motioned back toward the Rue Tobas. "a Gestapo man is standing across the street over there. There might be a whole nest of them in that building. I don't think you'd want their attention, would youi"
"Neither would you!" the man retorted. "So where does that leave usi"
"I have a job for a pickpocket," Michael said.
"Whati" Gaby had gotten off her bicycle. "What are you talking abouti"
"I need some nimble fingers," Michael went on. He stared forcefully at the thief. "Not to pick a pocket, but to put something into a pocket."
"You're crazy!" the thief said, with a sneer that made his ugly, heavy-browed face even uglier. "Maybe I ought to call for the Gestapo myself, and be done with you!"
"Be my guest," Michael offered.
The thief scowled, looked from Michael to Gaby and back again. His shoulders slumped. "Oh, to hell with it," he said.
"When's the last time you atei"
"I don't know. Yesterday, I guess. Whyi are you serving up beer and sausagesi"
"No. Onion soup." Michael heard Gaby gasp as she realized what he was about to propose. "are you on footi"
"My bike's around the corner." He motioned with a thumb toward the Rue de la Chine. "I work the alleys around here."
"You're going to take a trip with us. We'll be riding on either side of you, and if you call to a soldier or otherwise make any difficulties we'll kill you."
"Why should I go anywhere with youi You'll probably kill me anyway."
"Maybe we will," Michael said, "and maybe we won't. But at least you'll die with some food in your belly. Besides... we might be able to work out a financial arrangement." He saw the interest flare in the man's sunken eyes, and he knew he'd tripped the right switch. "What's your namei"
The thief paused, still wary. He looked up and down the alley, as if fearful of being overheard. Then: "Mausenfeld. arno Mausenfeld. Ex-field kitchen cook."
Maus, Michael thought. The German word for... "I'll call you Mouse," he decided. "Let's get on our way before curfew."