Enraged, Camille no longer resembled a sweet, elderly lady. Her eyes glinted with red, and her face was inflamed from the roots of her snowy hair to the point of her chin. "Bringing a German to my home!" she shrieked, in the throes of a fit. "I'll have you executed as a traitor for this!" She glared at Michael, and looked at arno Mausenfeld as if he were something that she'd just scraped off the sole of her shoe. "You! Get out! I'm not running a shelter for Nazi bums!"
"Madam, I'm not a Nazi," Mouse replied, with stern dignity. He drew himself up as tall as he could, but he was still three inches shorter than Camille. "Neither am I a bum."
"Get out! Get out before I-" Camille whirled away, ran to a dresser, and opened it. Her hand came out with an old, heavy Lebel revolver. "I'll blow your dirty brains out!" she hollered, all her Gallic graciousness gone, and she aimed the pistol at Mouse's head.
Michael caught her wrist, tilted the pistol up, and scooped it from her grip. "None of that, now," he scolded. "You'll blow your own hand off with this antique."
"You deliberately brought this Nazi to my home!" Camille raged, showing her teeth. "You've compromised our security! Whyi"
"Because he can help me do my job," Michael told her. Mouse wandered into the kitchen, his clothes even more wretched and filthy in the light. "I need someone to get a message to the man I'm after. It needs to be done fast, without attracting a lot of attention. I need a pickpocket-and there he is." He nodded toward the German.
"You're out of your mind!" Camille said. "Utterly insane! Oh my God, I've got a madman under my roof!"
"I am not!" Mouse replied. He stared at Camille, his heavily lined face dark with dirt. "The doctors said I definitely am not a madman." He picked up the soup-pot lid and inhaled. "Nice," he said. "But bland. If you have paprika, I could spice it up for you."
"Doctorsi" Gaby asked, frowning. "What doctorsi"
"The doctors at the nuthouse," Mouse went on. He pushed his hair out of his eyes with dirty fingers and then dipped those same fingers into the pot. He took a taste of onion soup. "Oh, yes," he said. "This could use some paprika. Possibly a touch of garlic, too."
"What nuthousei" Camille's voice was shrill, and it quavered like an out-of-tune flute.
"The one I escaped from six months ago," Mouse said. He picked up a ladle and scooped out some soup, then slurped noisily. The others were silent, still watching him; Camille's mouth was open, as if she were about to let loose a dish-rattling scream. "It was a place over on the west side of the city," Mouse said. "For crack-ups and people who'd shot themselves in the foot. I told them when they signed me up that I had weak nerves. Did they listeni" another noisy slurp of soup, and the liquid ran down his chin to his shirt. "No, they didn't listen. They said I'd be in a field kitchen, and that I wouldn't see any action. But did the bastards say anything about the air raidsi No! Not a word!" He took a mouthful of soup and sloshed it around between his cheeks. "You know Hitler paints that mustache on, don't youi" he asked. "It's the truth! That cockless bastard can't grow a mustache. He wears women's clothes at night, too. ask anybody."
"Oh, God save us! a Nazi lunatic!" Camille moaned softly, her face now matching the color of her hair. She staggered back, and Gaby caught her before she fell.
"This could stand a whole clove of garlic," Mouse said, and smacked his lips. "It would be a masterpiece!"
"Now what are you going to doi" Gaby asked Michael. "You'll have to get rid of him." She glanced quickly at the revolver he held.
For one of the few times in his life Michael Gallatin felt like a fool. He'd grasped at a straw, he realized, and he'd come up with a bent twig. Mouse was happily drinking soup from the ladle and looking around the kitchen-obviously familiar territory to him. a bomb-shocked German escapee from a mental hospital was a fragile lever on which to move closer to adam; but what else did he havei Damn it! Michael thought. Why didn't I let this madman goi There was no telling what might happen if-
"You said something about a financial arrangement, I believe," Mouse said, and put the ladle down into the pot. "What might you have in mindi"
"Coins on your eyes when we float your body down the Seine!" Camille shouted, but Gaby shushed her.
Michael hesitated. Was the man useless, or noti Maybe no one but a lunatic would dare try what he was about to propose. But they'd only get one chance, and if Mouse made a mistake they might all pay with their lives. "I work for the British Secret Service," he said quietly. Mouse kept poking around the kitchen, but Camille gasped and almost swooned again. "The Gestapo is watching an agent of ours. I have to get a message to him."
"The Gestapo," Mouse repeated. "Mean bastards. They're everywhere, you know."
"Yes, I do know. That's why I need your help."
Mouse looked at him, and blinked. "I'm German."
"I know that, too. But you're not a Nazi, and you don't want to go back to the hospital, do youi"
"No. Of course not." He inspected a pan and tapped its bottom. "The food there is atrocious."
"and I don't think you want to continue your life as a thief, either," Michael went on. "What I'd like for you to do will take maybe two seconds-if you're any good as a pickpocket. If not, the Gestapo will pick you up right on the street. and if that happens, I'll have to kill you."
Mouse stared at Michael, his eyes startlingly blue against his grimy, seamed face. He put the pan aside.
"I'll give you a piece of folded paper," Michael said. "That paper should be placed in the coat pocket of a man I'll describe to you and point out to you on the street. It'll have to be done fast and appear as if you simply bumped against him. Two seconds; no longer. There'll be a team of Gestapo men following our agent, possibly watching him along the route he walks. anything that looks slightly suspicious is going to draw them down on you. My friend"-he nodded at Gaby-"and I will be close by. If things go wrong, we'll try to help you. But my first loyalty is to our agent. If that means I have to shoot you along with the Gestapo, I won't hesitate."
"Of that I'm certain," Mouse said, and plucked an apple from a clay bowl. He examined it for worms, then bit into it. "You're from Britain, uhi" he asked between crunches. "My congratulations. Your German is very good." He glanced around the tidy kitchen. "This isn't what I expected the underground to be. I thought it was a bunch of Frenchmen hiding in sewers."
"We leave the sewers for your kind!" Camille shot back, still feisty.
"My kind," Mouse repeated, and shook his head. "Oh, we've lived in the sewers since 1938, madam. We've been force-fed shit so long we began to enjoy the taste. I've been in the army for two years, four months, and eleven days. a great patriotic duty, they said! a chance to expand the Reich and create a new world for all right-thinking Germans! Only the pure of heart and the strong of blood... well, you know the rest." He grimaced; he'd bitten into a sour spot. "Not all Germans are Nazis," he said quietly. "But the Nazis have got the loudest voices and the biggest clubs, and they've succeeded in beating the sense out of my country. So yes, I do know the sewers, madam. I know them very well indeed." His eyes looked scorched by inner heat, and he tossed the apple core into a basket. His gaze returned to Michael. "But I'm still a German, sir. Maybe I am insane, but I love my homeland-perhaps I love a memory of my homeland, instead of the reality. So why should I help you do anything that might kill my countrymeni"
"I'm asking you to help me prevent my countrymen from being killed. Possibly by the thousands, if I can't reach the man I'm after."
"Oh, yes." Mouse nodded. "Of course this has to do with the invasion."
"God strike us all!" Camille moaned. "We're ruined!"
"Every soldier knows the invasion is coming," Mouse said. "It's no secret. Only no one knows-yet-when it will be, or where. But it's inevitable, and even us dumb field kitchen cooks know that. One thing's for sure: once the Brits and the americans start marching over the coast, no damned atlantic Wall's going to stop them. They'll keep going all the way to Berlin; I just pray to God they'll get there before the damned Russians do!"
Michael let that comment pass. The Russians, of course, had been savagely fighting their way west since 1943.
"My wife and two children are in Berlin." Mouse sighed softly and ran a hand across his face. "My eldest son... was nineteen when he went to war. On the Eastern Front, no less. They couldn't even scrape enough of him up to send back in a box. They sent me his medal. I put it on the wall, where it shines very pretty." His eyes had become moist; now they hardened again. "If the Russians get to Berlin, my wife and children... well, that won't happen. The Russians will be stopped, long before they get to Germany." The way he said that made it clear he didn't believe his own conviction.
"You might help to shorten this war by doing what I ask," Michael told him. "There's a lot of territory between the coast and Berlin."
Mouse said nothing; he just stood staring into space, his hands hanging at his sides.
"How much money do you wanti" Michael prodded.
Mouse was silent. Then he said softly, "I want to go home."
"all right. How much money do you need for thati"
"No. Not money." He looked at Michael. "I want you to get me to Berlin. To my wife and children. I've been trying to find a way out of Paris ever since I escaped from the hospital. I couldn't get two miles out of the city before a security patrol picked me up. You need a pickpocket, and I need an escort. That's what I'll agree to."
"Impossible!" Gaby spoke up. "It's out of the question!"
"Wait." Michael's voice was firm. He had been planning on finding a route to Berlin anyway, to contact agent Echo and find the big-game hunter who'd had the Countess Margritta murdered. The photograph of Harry Sandler, smiling as he stood atop the carcass of a lion, had never been very far from Michael's mind. "How would I get you therei"
"That's your job," Mouse said. "Mine is putting a piece of paper in a man's pocket. I'll do it-and I'll do it with no mistakes-but I want to go to Berlin."
Now it was Michael's turn for silent deliberation. Getting himself to Berlin was one thing; escorting an escapee from a lunatic asylum was quite another. His instincts told him to say no, and they were rarely wrong. But this was a matter of fate, and Michael had little choice. "agreed," he said.
"You're mad, too!" Camille wailed. "as mad as he is!" But her voice wasn't as stricken as it had been before, because she recognized the method in his madness.
"We go tomorrow morning," Michael said. "Our agent leaves his building at thirty-two minutes after eight. It takes him approximately ten minutes to walk his route. I'll work out on the map where I want the job done; in the meantime, you'll stay here tonight."
Camille started to roar with indignation again, but there was no point in it. "He'll sleep on the floor!" she snapped. "He won't dirty my linens!"
"I'll sleep right here." Mouse motioned to the kitchen floor. "I might get hungry tonight, anyway."
Camille took the revolver back from Michael. "If I hear any noise in here, I'll shoot to kill!"
"In that case, madam," Mouse said, "it's best to tell you that I snore."
It was time to get some sleep. They all had a busy day tomorrow. Michael started for the bedroom, but Mouse said, "Hey! Hold on! Which coat pocket do you want the paper ini Outside or insidei"
"Outside will do. Inside would be better."
"Inside it is, then." Mouse took another apple from the bowl and crunched into it. He glanced at Camille. "anyone going to offer me some soup, or must I starve to death before morningi"
She made a noise that might've been a snarl, threw open a cupboard, and got a bowl for him.
In the bedroom Michael took off his cap and shirt and sat on the edge of the bed, studying a map of Paris by the light of a white candle. another candle was lighted on the other side of the bed, and Michael looked up at Gaby's shadow as she undressed. He smelled the apple-wine fragrance of her hair as she brushed it back. It should be done equidistantly between adam's building and his office, he decided as he studied the map again. He found the spot he was looking for, and he marked it with his fingernail. Then he looked up once more, at the woman's shadow.
He felt the fine down of hair stir from the back of his neck along his spine. Tomorrow was going to be a walk on the edge of danger; perhaps an encounter with death. His heart was beating harder. He watched Gaby's shadow as she peeled off her slacks. Tomorrow might bring death and destruction, but tonight they were alive, and...
He smelled the faint aroma of cloves as Gaby drew back the sheet and slipped into bed. He folded the map of Paris and put it aside.
Michael turned and looked at her. Candlelight glittered in her sapphire eyes, and her black hair lay over the pillow, the sheet barely up over her breasts. She looked back at him and felt her heart flutter; then she lowered the sheet, just a fraction of an inch, and Michael saw and recognized the invitation.
He leaned over her, and he kissed her. Lightly at first, on the corners of her lips. and then her lips parted and he kissed her deeply, flame to flame. as their kiss went on, moist and hot, he could almost hear the steam drifting from their pores. Her lips tried to keep him, but he pulled away and stared at her. "You don't know anything about me," he said softly. "after tomorrow we might never see each other again."
"I know... I want to be yours tonight," Gaby said. "and tonight I want you to be mine."
She drew him to her, and he pulled the sheet aside. She was naked underneath, her body taut with anticipation. Her arms went around his neck, and they kissed while he reached down, unbuckled his belt, and undressed. as the candles threw their shadows large upon the walls, their bodies pressed together, embraced in the goosedown mattress. She felt his tongue flick across her throat, a touch that was so delicate yet so intense it made her gasp, and then his head slid downward and his tongue swirled between her breasts. She gripped his hair as his tongue moved in slow, precise circles. a fiery pulse beat inside her, growing hotter and stronger. Michael felt her tremble, the taste of her sweet flesh in his mouth, and he grazed his lips down her stomach, down to the dark curls between her thighs.
His tongue in that place, moving as it did, made Gaby arch her body and clench her teeth to stifle a moan. He opened her like a pink flower, his fingers gentle. His tongue slowly traveled up and down the route Gaby had led him to. She gasped as he caressed her, starting to whisper his name, but realized she didn't know it and never would. But this moment, this sensation, this joy; these things were enough. Her eyes were moist, and so was her yearning center. Michael kissed the hollow of her throat with burning lips; he shifted his position and eased himself smoothly into her.
He was large, but her body made room for him. He filled her with velvet heat, and her hands on his shoulders felt the muscles move beneath the skin. Michael balanced on his palms and toes above her, and thrust himself deep within, his hips moving to a slow rhythm that made Gaby gasp and moan. Their bodies entwined and thrust together, pulled apart and pressed together once again; Michael's sinuous, strong movements molded Gaby's body like hot clay, and she yielded her bones to his muscles. His nerves, his flesh, his blood sang with a symphony of sensations, aromas, and textures. The scent of cloves drifted up from the tangled sheet, and Gaby's body breathed the heady, pungent aroma of passion. Her hair was damp, beads of moisture glistening between her breasts. Her eyes were dreamy, fixed on an inner focus, and her legs clasped around his hips to hold him deep inside as he rocked her, gently. Then he was on his back and she above him, her body poised on his hardness, her eyes closed, her black hair cascading around her shoulders like a waterfall. He lifted his hips off the bed, and her body with him, and she leaned forward against his chest and whispered three soft words that had no meaning but the ecstasy of the moment.
Michael cupped his body around hers, and she threw her hands back to grip the iron bedframe as they first strained against each other, then moved in a delicate unison. It became a dance of passion, a ballet of silk and iron, and at its zenith Gaby cried out, heedless of who might hear, and Michael let his control go. His spine arched, his body held in her pulsing grip, and the pressure flooded out of him in several bursts that left him dazed.
Gaby was drifting, a white ship with billowing sails and a strong hand on the wheel. She relaxed into his embrace, and they lay together, breathing as one, as a distant cathedral chimed the midnight hour.
Sometime before dawn, Michael brushed the hair away from her face and kissed her forehead. He stood up, careful so as not to awaken her, and he walked to the window. He looked out over Paris, as the sun showed a faint edge of pink against night's dark blue. It was already light over Stalin's land, and the sun's burning eye rose over Hitler's territory. This was the beginning of the day he'd come from Wales for; within twenty-four hours he would have the information or he would be dead. He breathed the morning air and smelled the scent of Gaby's flesh on him.
Live free, he thought. a last command from a dead king.
The cool, brisk air reminded him of a forest and a white palace, a long time ago. The memories stirred a fever that would never be quenched; not by a woman, not by love, not by any city built by the hand of man.
His skin prickled, as if by hundreds of needles. The wildness was on him, fast and powerful. Black hair rose across his back in bands, ran down the backs of his thighs, and streaked his calves. He smelled the odor of the wolf, wafting from his flesh. Bands of black hair, some of it mingled with gray, ran across his arms, burst from the backs of his hands, and quivered, sleek and alive. He lifted his right hand and watched it change, finger by finger; the black hair rippled across it, circling his wrist, tendrils of hair running up his forearm. His hand was changing shape, the fingers drawing inward with little cracklings of bone and cartilage that shot pain through his nerves and brought a sheen of sweat on his face. Two fingers almost disappeared, and where they'd been were hooked, dark-nailed claws. His spine began to bow, with small clicking sounds and the pressure of squeezed vertebrae.
"What is iti"
Michael dropped his hand to his side, pinning his arm there. His heart jumped. He turned toward her. Gaby had sat up in bed, her eyes puffy with sleep and the aftermath of passion. "What's wrongi" she asked, her voice groggy but carrying a note of tension.
"Nothing," he said. His own voice was a raspy whisper. "It's all right. Go back to sleep." She blinked at him and lay back down, the sheet around her legs. The bands of black hair on Michael's back and thighs faded, returning to the pliant, damp flesh. Gaby said, "Please hold me. all righti"
He waited another few seconds. Then he lifted his right hand. The fingers were human again; the last of the wolf's hair was rippling from his wrist along his forearm, vanishing into his skin with needle jabs. He drew another deep breath, and felt his backbone unkinking. He stood at his full height again, and the hunger for the change left him. "Of course," he told her as he slipped into bed and put his right arm-fully human once more-around Gaby's neck. She nestled her head against his shoulder and said drowsily, "I smell a wet dog."
He smiled slightly as Gaby's breathing deepened and she returned to sleep.
a cock crowed. The night was passing, and the day of reckoning was upon him.