"are you sure you can trust himi" Gaby asked as she and Michael slowly pedaled their bikes south along the avenue des Pyrenees. They watched Mouse, a little man in a filthy overcoat, pedaling a beat-up bicycle past them, heading north to the intersection of the Rue de Menilmontant, where he would swing to the east and the avenue Gambetta.
"No," Michael answered, "but we'll soon find out." He touched the Luger beneath his coat and turned into an alley with Gaby right behind him. The dawn had been false; clouds the color of pewter had roiled across the sun, and a chilly breeze swept through the streets. Michael checked his poisoned pocket watch: twenty-nine minutes after eight. adam would be emerging from his building, following his daily schedule, in three minutes. He would begin his walk from the Rue Tobas to the avenue Gambetta, where he would turn to the northeast on his way to the gray stone building that flew Nazi flags over the Rue de Belleville. as adam approached the intersection of the avenue Gambetta and the Rue St. Fargeau, Mouse would have to be in position.
Michael had awakened Mouse at five-thirty, Camille had begrudgingly fed them all breakfast, and Michael had described adam to him and drilled him on it until he was sure-or as sure as he could be-that Mouse could pick adam out on the street. at this time of the morning the streets were still drowsy. Only a few other bicyclists and pedestrians were heading to work. In Mouse's pocket was a folded note that read: Your box. L'Opera. Third act tonight.
They came out of the alley onto the Rue de la Chine-and Michael narrowly missed hitting two German soldiers walking together. Gaby swerved past them, and one of the soldiers hollered and whistled at her. She felt the damp memory of last night between her thighs, and she nonchalantly stood up in her seat and patted her rear as an invitation for the German to kiss her there. The two soldiers both laughed and made smacking noises. She followed Michael along the street, their bicycle tires jarring over the stones, and then Michael turned into the alley in which he'd encountered Mouse the night before. Gaby kept going south along the Rue de la Chine, in accordance with their plan.
Michael stopped his bike and waited. He stared at the alley entrance, facing the Rue Tobas, about thirty-five feet ahead. a man walked by-dark-haired, stoop-shouldered, and heading in the wrong direction. Definitely not adam. He checked his watch: thirty-one minutes after eight. a woman and man walked past the alley entrance talking animatedly. Lovers, Michael thought. The man had a dark beard. Not adam. a horse-drawn carriage went past, the clopping of the horse's hooves echoing along the street. a few bicyclists, pedaling slowly, in no hurry. a milk wagon, its husky driver calling for customers.
and then a man in a long dark brown overcoat, his hands in his pockets, strolled past the alley entrance in the direction of the avenue Gambetta. The man's silhouette was chiseled, his nose a hawklike beak. It was not adam, but the man wore a black leather hat that had a feather in its band, as had the Gestapo agent on the road, Michael recalled. The man suddenly stopped, right at the alley's edge. Michael pressed his back against the wall, hiding behind a pile of broken crates. The man looked around, his back to Michael; he gave the alley a cursory glance that told Michael he'd done this too many times. Then the man took off his hat and brushed an imaginary spot of dust from the brim. He returned the hat to his head and strolled on toward the avenue Gambetta. a signal, Michael realized. Probably to someone else farther up the street.
He had no more time for speculation. In another few seconds a slim, blond-haired man in a gray overcoat, carrying a black valise and wearing wire-rimmed eyeglasses, walked past the alley. Michael's heart pounded; adam was on time.
He waited. Perhaps thirty seconds after adam had passed, two more men crossed the entrance, one walking about eight or nine paces in front of the second. One wore a brown suit and a fedora, the second wore a beige jacket, corduroy trousers, and a tan beret. He carried a newspaper, and Michael knew there had to be a gun in it. Michael gave them a few more seconds; then he took a deep breath and pedaled out of the alley onto the Rue Tobas. He turned to the right, heading toward the avenue Gambetta, and saw the whole picture: the leather-hatted man walking far ahead at a brisk pace on the left-hand side of the street, adam on the right side and spaced out behind him the man in the suit and the newspaper reader.
a nice, efficient little parade, Michael thought. There were probably other Gestapo men, waiting ahead on the avenue Gambetta. They had performed this ritual at least twice a day since they'd zeroed in on adam, and maybe the sameness of the ritual had dulled their reflexes. Maybe. Michael wouldn't count on it. He pedaled past the newspaper reader, keeping his pace steady. another bicyclist zoomed around him, giving an angry beep of his horn. Michael pedaled past the man in the suit. Even now Gaby would be about a hundred yards or so behind Michael, positioned there as a backup in case things went wrong. adam was coming to the intersection of the Rue Tobas and the avenue Gambetta; he looked both ways, paused for a truck to chug past, then crossed the street and walked northeast. Michael followed him, and immediately saw the leather-hatted man step into a doorway and another Gestapo agent in a dark gray suit and two-tone shoes emerge from the same doorway. This new man walked on ahead, his gaze sliding slowly back and forth across the street. Way up at the junction of the Rue de Belleville and the avenue Gambetta, Nazi flags whipped in the breeze.
Michael put on some speed and pedaled by adam. a figure on a beat-up bicycle was approaching, the front wheel wobbling. Michael waited until he was almost abreast of Mouse, and then gave a brief nod. He saw Mouse's eyes: glittering and moist with fear. But there was no time to stop the plan, and it was now or never. Michael pedaled past Mouse, and left it up to him.
On seeing the man's nod, Mouse felt a spear of pure terror pierce his guts. Why he'd agreed to something like this, he'd never know. No, that was wrong; he knew fully well why he'd agreed. He wanted to get home, to his wife and children, and if this was the only way to do it...
He saw a man with two-tone shoes glance sharply at him, then away. and walking perhaps twenty feet behind the two-tones was the blond-haired man with round eyeglasses whose description had been drilled into his head. He saw the dark-haired woman approaching, slowly pedaling her bicycle. She'd made enough noise last night to give the dead hard-ons. God, how he missed his wife! The blond man, wearing a gray overcoat and carrying a black valise, was nearing the intersection of the Rue St. Fargeau. Mouse pedaled a little faster, trying to get into position. His heart was hammering, and a gust of wind almost threw him off balance. He had the piece of paper clenched in his right hand. The blond man stepped off the curb, began to cross the Rue St. Fargeau. God help me! Mouse thought, his face tight with fear. a velo taxi swept past him, upsetting his aim. His front wheel wobbled violently, and Mouse thought for a terrible instant that it was going to leap off its spokes. and then the blond man was almost up on the opposite curb, and that was when Mouse gritted his teeth and swerved to the right. He threw himself over, the tires skidding out from under him on the edge of the curb, and his shoulder brushed the blond man's arm as Mouse fell. He reached out with both hands, seemingly fighting the air for a grip. His right hand darted into the coat's folds; he felt patched wool lining and the rim of a pocket. His fingers opened. Then the bicycle and his body crashed down over the curb, the impact whooshing the breath out of him. His right hand, the palm sweating, was empty.
The blond-haired man had gone on three paces. He turned, looked back at the fallen, raggedy figure in the gutter, and stopped. "are you all righti" he asked in French, and Mouse smiled stupidly and waved.
and as the blond-haired man turned away again and kept walking, Mouse saw a gust of wind swirl the folds of his overcoat-and a small piece of paper spun out of them and took flight.
Mouse gasped with horror. The paper spun like a treacherous butterfly, and Mouse reached out for it but the thing whirled past. It landed on the sidewalk, and was scooted along a few more inches. Mouse reached for it again, sweat on the back of his neck. a dark brown, polished shoe stepped on his fingers, and crunched down.
Mouse looked up, still smiling stupidly. The man who stood over him wore a dark brown suit and a fedora. He was smiling, too. Except his face was gaunt and his eyes were cold, and his thin-lipped mouth was not shaped for a smile. The man plucked the piece of paper off the pavement and unfolded it.
Less than thirty feet away Gaby slowed to a crawl and put her hand on the Luger beneath her sweater.
The man in the brown suit looked at the writing on the piece of paper. Gaby started to pull the Luger from her waistband, aware that the Gestapo man in the beret was walking faster toward his companion and he was holding his newspaper with both hands.
"Give me some money, please sir," Mouse said, in his best French. His voice shook.
"You dirty bastard." The brown-suited man crumpled the paper in his fist. "I'll give you a kick in the balls. Watch where you're riding that wreck." He tossed the paper into the gutter, shook his head at his companion, and both of them strode on after the blond-haired man. Mouse felt sick. Gaby was stunned, and she took her hand off the Luger and swerved her bicycle onto the Rue St. Fargeau.
Mouse picked up the crumpled paper from the gutter with his left hand and opened it, his fingers palsied. He blinked and read what was written there in French.
Blue suit, middle button missing. White shirts, light starch. Colored shirts, no starch. Extra collar stays.
It was a laundry list. Mouse realized it must have been in the blond man's inside coat pocket, and it had been knocked out when Mouse's fingers had deposited the note.
He laughed; it was a strangled sound. a flex of his right hand told him the fingers weren't broken, though two of the nails were already turning violet.
I did it! Mouse thought, and felt tears pressing at his eyes. By God, I did it!
"On your feet. Hurry!" Michael had circled back, and now paused astride his bicycle, a few feet from Mouse. "Come on, get up!" He looked down the avenue Gambetta, watching adam and his Gestapo guards nearing the Rue de Belleville and the Nazi building.
"I did it!" Mouse said excitedly. "I really did-"
"Get on your bike and follow me. Now." Michael pedaled away, heading toward their rendezvous point-the scrawled sign that proclaimed GERMaNY VICTORIOUS ON aLL FRONTS. Mouse pulled himself up from the gutter, got on the wobbly-wheeled bike, and followed. He was shivering, and perhaps he was a traitor and deserved to be hanged, but the image of home bloomed in his mind like a spring flower and suddenly he felt very victorious indeed.