He had no intention of following the first Gestapo agent's descent to the auditorium's floor; his fingers gripped the fluted finials of the gilded column that rose beside adam's loge, and the muscles of his shoulders strained as he pulled himself and adam up toward the topmost tier. a new chorus of screams and shrieks swept across the audience. Even Ninon Vallin cried out, whether in fear for a human life or rage at being upstaged, Michael couldn't tell. He hoisted them up, grabbing whatever handholds he could find. His heart pounded and the blood roared through his veins, but his brain was cool; whatever the future held, it was to be decided very quickly.
and so it was. He heard the vicious crack! of a gunshot-a Luger being fired at an upward angle. He felt adam's body shudder and stiffen. The man's arms, already tightly clamped around him, in an instant became as rigid as iron bars. Warm wetness trickled through the back of Michael's hair and down his neck, drenching his suit jacket; he realized the bullet had just blown away a large portion of adam's skull, and the muscles of the corpse had frozen in the sudden paralysis of severed nerves. He clambered up the column, a dead man locked on his back and blood trickling over the finials. He pulled himself over the balcony of the uppermost loge as a second bullet flayed away a shower of gold paint four inches from his right elbow.
"Up the stairs!" he heard the Gestapo agent shout. "Hurry!"
The loge Michael found himself in was unoccupied. He spent a few seconds trying to unlock adam's fingers from where they were clenched together at his chest; he broke two of them like dry twigs, but the others resisted him. There was no time to fight a dead man's grip. Michael staggered through the door into the crimson-carpeted hallway outside and faced a warren of lamplit corridors and staircases. "This way!" he heard a man shout, from somewhere to his left. Michael turned to the right and staggered down a corridor lined with paintings of medieval hunting scenes. The corpse hung to his back, its shoe tips dragging furrows in the carpet. Behind them, Michael realized, was also a trail of blood. He stopped to thrash against the body; but all he did was burn up priceless energy, and the corpse remained latched to him like a lifeless Siamese twin.
a shot rang out. Just over Michael's shoulder, a lamp held by a statue of Diana exploded. He saw two soldiers coming after him, both armed with rifles. He tried to reach his Luger but couldn't get to it because of the corpse's grip. He turned and ran into another corridor, this one curving to the left. The voices of his pursuers shouted directions to each other, their Germanic snarls like the baying of hounds. Now the corpse's one hundred and thirty pounds seemed an eternal weight. He forced himself on, the corpse leaving smears of blood in the halls of beauty.
an ascending staircase was ahead of him, cherubs with lyres mounted on its balustrades. Michael started toward it-and smelled the bitter scent of a stranger's sweat. a German soldier with a pistol stepped from a shadowed archway on his left. "Your hands," the soldier said. "Up." He motioned with the gun.
In the second that the barrel was uptilted, Michael kicked him in the right kneecap and heard the bones break. The pistol fired, its bullet thunking into the ceiling. The German, his face twisted with pain, staggered against the wall but didn't let go of the gun; he began to take aim, and Michael leaped at him as adam dragged on his shoulders. He caught the German's wrist. again the gun fired, but the bullet passed Michael's cheek and smashed something on the other side of the corridor. The German gouged at Michael's eyes with hooked fingers and screamed, "I've got him! Help me! I've got him!"
Even with a broken knee, the soldier was strong. They fought in the hallway, grappling for the gun. The soldier struck Michael in the jaw with a blow that stunned him and made him see double for a few seconds, but he held on to the gun hand. Michael delivered a punch that hit the German in the mouth and knocked two teeth down his throat, strangling his screams for help. The German brought a knee up into Michael's stomach, driving the breath out of him, and the corpse's weight pulled Michael off balance. He fell backward, hitting the wall with a force that cracked adam's ruined skull against the marble. The soldier, balancing desperately on one leg, raised his Luger to shoot Michael at point-blank range.
Behind the German Michael saw a whirl of dark blue, like a tornado unfurling. a knife glittered with chandelier light. Its blade plunged down into the back of the soldier's neck. The man choked and staggered, dropping his pistol to clutch his throat. Gaby wrenched at the knife, but it had gone in too deeply. She let it go, and the soldier made a terrible moaning noise and crashed face down.
Gaby blinked, stunned at the sight before her: Michael, his hair bloody and gore spattered over one side of his face, and clutched to his back an openmouthed corpse that had a pulpy mess where the right temple had been. Her stomach churned. She picked up the gun, her knife hand smeared with scarlet, as Michael found his balance again.
"Geissen!" a man shouted from down the corridor. "Where the hell are youi"
Gaby helped Michael try to unlock the corpse's fingers, but they could hear the noise of more soldiers approaching. The only route available to them was the ascending staircase. They started up it, Michael's legs beginning to cramp under adam's weight. The staircase curved and took them to a latched door. as Gaby threw back the latch and pulled the door open, the night wind of Paris rushed into their faces. They had reached the roof of the Opera House.
The tips of adam's polished black shoes scraped the tarred stones as Michael followed Gaby across the Opera's huge roof. Gaby looked back and saw figures emerging from the doorway they'd come through. She knew there had to be other ways down, but how long would it take the Germans to cover all the exitsi She hurried on, but had to wait for Michael; his strength was ebbing, his back beginning to bow. "Go on!" he snapped. "Don't wait for me!"
She waited, her heart pounding, as she watched for the figures coming after them. When Michael had caught up with her again, she turned and started off. They neared the front of the roof, with the sprawling, glittering city spread around them in all directions. The massive statue of apollo rose from the roof's apex, and pigeons took flight as Michael and Gaby approached. Michael felt his legs weakening; he was holding Gaby back. He stopped, supporting himself and adam's weight against the base of apollo. "Keep going," he told Gaby when she paused again. "Find a way down."
"I'm not leaving you," she said, staring at him with her sapphire eyes.
"Don't be a fool! This isn't the time or place for argument." He heard the men shouting back and forth to each other, coming closer. He got his hand into his coat-and touched not his own Luger, which was trapped in its holster, but the poisoned pocket watch. His fingers gripped it, but he couldn't make himself bring it out. "Go!" he told her.
"I'm not leaving," Gaby said. "I love you."
"No, you don't. You love the memory of a moment. You don't know anything about me-and you wouldn't want to." He glanced at the figures, approaching cautiously about thirty yards away. They hadn't yet seen him or Gaby underneath the statue. The pocket watch was ticking, and time was running out. "Don't throw your life away," he said. "Not for me. Not for anybody."
She hesitated, and Michael could see the strain on her face. She glanced at the oncoming Germans, then back to Michael. Maybe she did only love the memory of a moment-but what was life, if not simply the memory of momentsi He pulled the pocket watch free and popped it open. The cyanide capsule awaited his choice. "You've done what you can," he told her. "Now go." and he shook the capsule into his mouth. She saw his throat convulse as he swallowed the pill. He grimaced.
"Over here! Here they are!" one of the men shouted. a pistol fired, and the bullet knocked sparks off apollo's thigh. Michael Gallatin shivered and fell to his knees, with adam's weight atop him. He looked up at Gaby, his face sparkling with sweat.
She couldn't stand to watch him die. another shot was fired, and it zipped by close enough to unthaw her legs. She turned away from Michael Gallatin, tears streaming down her cheeks, and she ran. about fifty feet from where Michael lay dying, Gaby's shoe hit the hand grip of a trapdoor. She pulled it open and looked down at a ladder. Then another glance toward Michael; the figures were surrounding him, victors of the hunt. It was all Gaby could do to keep from firing into their midst, but they'd surely shoot her to pieces. She went down the ladder, and the trapdoor closed over her head.
Six German soldiers and three Gestapo men stood around Michael. The man who'd blown adam's head open sneered. "Now we've got you, you bastard."
Michael spat out the pill he'd been holding in his mouth. Under adam's corpse, his body shivered. Prickles of pain shot through his nerves. The Gestapo agent was reaching down for him, and Michael surrendered himself to the change.
It was like stepping from a secure shelter into a maelstrom of wild winds-a conscious choice, and once decided, difficult to reverse. He felt the primeval shriek in his bones as his spine bowed, and with a thunder that boomed in his head, his skull and face began to alter their shape. He shivered, and moaned uncontrollably.
The Gestapo agent's hand froze in midair. One of the soldiers laughed. "He's begging for mercy!" the man said.
"Get up!" The Gestapo man stepped back. "Get up, you swine!"
The moaning changed pitch. It lost its human element and turned bestial.
"Bring a light!" the Gestapo agent shouted. He didn't know what was wrong with the man who crouched before him, but he didn't care to stand any closer. "Somebody get a light on h-"
There was the noise of ripping cloth, and cracking sounds of bones being broken. The soldiers stepped back, and the one who'd laughed now wore a fractured grin. One of the soldiers produced a hand torch, and the Gestapo agent fumbled to switch it on. Before him something heaved, laboring under the stiff corpse at his feet. His hands shook; he couldn't get the balky switch clicked. "Damn it to Hell!" he shouted-and then the switch moved, and the light came on.
He saw what was there, and his breath froze.
Hell had shining green eyes and a sleek, muscular body covered with gray-streaked, black hair. Hell had white fangs, and hell moved on all fours.
The beast shook violently, a powerful motion that broke the corpse's arms like matchsticks and threw the body aside. It cast off, as well, the last of its human masquerade: a blood-covered gray suit, white shirt with the tie still knotted in the ripped collar, underwear, socks, and shoes. amid the debris was a holster that held a Luger; the beast had deadlier weapons.
"Oh... my..." The Gestapo agent never got to call on his deity; Hitler was absent, and God knew the meaning of justice. The beast sprang, its jaws gaping, and as it hit the Gestapo agent its teeth were already sinking into the throat and ripping away flesh and arteries in a crimson shower of carnage.
all but two of the soldiers and one of the other Gestapo agents shrieked and fled for their lives. a German soldier ran the wrong way-not toward the doorway but toward the street. He ended there, on a crushed note. The second Gestapo man, a heroic fool, lifted his Mauser pistol to fire at the beast as it whirled toward him; the fierce green glare of its eyes hypnotized him for perhaps a half second, and that was much too long. The beast leaped upon him, claws making a bloody tatters of the man's face, and the man's strangled, lipless scream shocked the two soldiers from their trances. They ran, too, one of them falling and tangling the second in his legs.
Michael Gallatin raged. He snapped the air, his jaws cracking together. Blood was dripping from his muzzle, its hot perfume heightening his abandon. a human mind calculated in the skull of the wolf, and his eyes saw not the darkness of night but a gray-hazed twilight in which blue-edged figures ran for the doorway, their screams like the high squeals of hunted rats. Michael could hear the panicked beating of their hearts-a military drum corps hammering at an insane speed. The smell of their sweat had sausage and schnapps in it. He bounded forward, his muscles and sinews moving like the fine gears of a killing machine, and he turned on the soldier who was trying to struggle to his feet; Michael looked into the German's face, and in a split second judged him a youth, no more than seventeen. an innocent corrupted by a rifle and a book called Mein Kampf. Michael seized the boy's left hand in his jaws and crushed the fingers without breaking the skin, removing the possibility of further corruption by rifle. Then, as the boy screamed and flailed at him, Michael turned away and bounded across the roof after the others.
One of the soldiers stopped to fire his pistol; the bullet ricocheted off the stones to Michael's left, but did not slow him. as the soldier spun around to flee, Michael jumped up and slammed into the man's back, knocking him aside like a scarecrow. Then Michael landed nimbly, and kept going in a blur of motion. He saw the others barreling into the door that led down the staircase, and in another few seconds they would be throwing the latch. The last man was about to squeeze through; the door was already closing, and the Germans were hollering and trying to pull him in. Michael lowered his head and propelled himself forward.
He leaped, skewing his body in midair, and crashed against the door. It flew open, knocking the Germans down the stairs in a tangle of arms and legs. He landed amid them, clawing and tearing with fevered indiscrimination; then he left them behind, bloody and broken, as he raced down the stairs and through the corridors still marked with the furrows of adam's shoe tips.
as he came down the sweeping staircase from the main auditorium, he met the crowd that milled in confusion and shouted for refunds. as Michael bounded down the stairs, the shouting ceased; the silence, however, didn't last long. a fresh wave of shrieks crashed against the Opera's marbled walls, and men and women in their elegant attire jumped over the balustrades like swabbies off the sides of a torpedoed battleship. Michael leaped down the last six steps, his paws skidding across the green marble as he landed, and a bearded aristocrat with an ivory cane blanched and stumbled backward, a wet spot spreading across the front of his trousers.
Michael ran, the power and exhilaration singing in his blood. His heart pumped steadily, his lungs bellowed, his sinews worked like iron springs. He snapped left and right, scaring back those who were too dumbfounded to move. Then he was streaking through the final vestibule, clearing a path of screams, and onto the street. He raced under the belly of a carriage horse, which reared and danced madly. Michael glanced back, over his shoulder; a few people had run out after him, but the panicked horse was in their midst and they scattered away from the pounding hooves.
There was a fresh shriek: worn brakes, and tires clenching stones. Michael looked ahead and saw a pair of lights rushing at him. Without a hesitation, he bounded off the ground and up over the car's front fender and hood. He had an instant to see two shocked faces behind the windshield, and then Michael scrambled up over the top of the car, down the other side, and raced away across the avenue de' L'Opera.
"My God!" Mouse gasped as the Citrien shuddered to a stop. He looked at Gaby. "What was thati"
"I don't know." She was stunned, and her mind seemed to be full of rusted gears. She saw people coming out of the Opera House, among them several German officers, and she said, "Go!"
Mouse hit the accelerator, swerved the car around, and tore away from the Opera, leaving a backfire and a poot of blue smoke as his last salute.