Michael had seen Paris in sunshine; he saw Berlin in gray gloom.
It was a huge, sprawling city. It smelled musty and earthy, like a cellar long sealed from light. It looked ancient as well, its stocky buildings the same shade of gray. Michael thought of tombstones in a damp graveyard where deadly mushrooms thrived.
They crossed the Havel River in the Spandau district, and on the other side were immediately forced off the road by a column of Kubelwagens and troop trucks heading west. a chill wind blew off the Havel, making faded Nazi flags snap from their lampposts. The pavement was cracked with tank treads. across the cityscape spouts of dark smoke rose from chimneys, and the wind curled them into question marks. The stone walls of rowhouses were adorned with battered posters and proclamations, such as REMEMBER THE HEROES OF STaLINGRaD, ONWaRD TO MOSCOW, GERMaNY VICTORIOUS TODaY, GERMaNY VICTORIOUS TOMORROW. Epitaphs on gravestones, Michael thought; Berlin was a cemetery, full of ghosts. Of course there were people on the streets, and in cars, and flower shops, and cinemas, and tailorshops, but there was no vitality. Berlin was not a city of smiles, and Michael noticed that people kept glancing over their shoulders, fearful of what was approaching from the east.
Gunther took them through the elegant streets of the Charlottenburg district, where dwellings styled like gingerbread castles housed equally fanciful dukes and barons, toward the war-worn inner city. Row houses crowded together, grim-looking structures with blackout curtains: these were streets where dukes and barons held no power. Michael noticed something strange: there were only elderly people and children about, no young men except for the soldiers who swept past in trucks and on motorcycles, and those men had young faces but old eyes. Berlin was in mourning, because its youth was dead.
"We have to take my friend home," Michael said to Gunther. "I promised him."
"I was ordered to take you to a safe house. That's where I'm going."
"Please." Mouse spoke up; his voice quavered. "Please... my house isn't far from here. It's in the Tempelhof district, near the airport. I'll show you the way."
"I'm sorry," Gunther said. "My orders were-"
Michael clamped a hand around the back of his neck. Gunther had been a good companion, but Michael didn't care to argue. "I'm changing your orders. We can go to the safe house after we get my friend home. Either do it or give me the reins."
"You don't know what a risk you're taking!" Dietz snapped. "and us, too! We just lost a friend because of you!"
"Then get off and walk," Michael told him. "Go on. Get off."
Dietz hesitated. He, too, was a stranger in Berlin. Gunther quietly said, "Shit," and popped the reins. "all right. Where in Tempelhofi"
Mouse eagerly gave him the address, and Michael released Gunther's neck.
Not too much farther, they began to see bombed buildings. The heavy B-17 and B-24 american bombers had delivered their freight, and rubble choked the streets. Some of the buildings were unrecognizable, heaps of stones and timbers. Others had split open and collapsed from the force of the bombs. a haze of smoke lay close to the street. Here the gloom was even thicker, and in the twilight the red centers of smoldering heaps of rubble glowed like Hades.
They passed an area where civilians, their clothes and faces grimy, were searching through a building's wreckage. Tongues of flame licked along fallen timbers, and an elderly woman sobbed as an old man tried to comfort her. Bodies under sheets were laid out, with precise German geometry, along the fissured sidewalk. "Killers!" the elderly woman shouted, and whether she was looking at the sky or toward Hitler's chancellery at the heart of Berlin, Michael couldn't tell. "God curse you, you killers!" she shrieked, and then she sobbed again with her hands over her face, unable to bear the sight of ruin.
ahead of the wagon stretched a landscape of destruction. On both sides of the street, buildings had exploded, burned, and collapsed. Smoke hung in layers, too heavy for even the wind to tatter. Factory chimneys jutted up, but the factory had been crushed like a caterpillar under a steel-soled boot. The rubble was so high that it clogged the street, forcing Gunther to find another route south into the Tempelhof. Off to the west, a large fire raged, spitting up whirling red flames. Bombs must have fallen last night, Michael thought. Mouse was sitting slumped over, his eyes glassy. Michael started to touch the little man's shoulder, but then he drew his hand back. Nothing could be said.
Gunther found Mouse's street and in another moment stopped the wagon at the address Mouse had given him.
The row house had been made of red stones. There was no fire; the ashes were cool, and they spun in the wind past Mouse's face as he got out of the wagon and stood on what remained of the front steps.
"This isn't it!" Mouse said to Gunther. His face was slick with cold sweat. "This is the wrong address!"
Gunther didn't answer.
Mouse stared at what used to be his home. Two walls had collapsed and most of the floors. The central staircase, badly scorched, ran up into the building like a warped spine. a sign near the jagged, burnt hole where the front door had been warned DaNGER! ENTRaNCE FORBIDDEN! It was stamped with the seal of the Nazi party's inspector of housing. Mouse had a terrible desire to laugh. My God! he thought. I've come all this way, and they won't let me into my own house! He saw the broken shards of a blue vase in the wreckage, and he remembered that they'd once held roses. Tears burned his eyes. "Louisa!" he shouted, and the sound of that awful cry made Michael's soul shrivel. "Louisa! answer me!"
a window opened in a fire-scorched building across the street, and an old man peered out. "Hey!" he called. "Who're you looking fori"
"Louisa Mausenfeld! Do you know where she and the children arei"
"They took all the bodies away," the old man said with a shrug. Mouse had never seen him before; a young couple used to live in that apartment. "It was a terrible fire. See how it burned these bricksi" He patted one for emphasis.
"Louisa... the two little girls..." Mouse wavered; the world, a brutal hell, was spinning around him.
"The husband died, too, in France," the old man continued. "That's what I heard, at least. are you a relativei"
Mouse didn't answer, but he did speak: a cry of anguish that echoed between the remaining walls. and then, before Michael could leap out of the wagon and stop him, Mouse started running up the spindly staircase, the burned risers cracking under his weight. at once Michael was going after him, into a realm of ashes and darkness, and he heard the old man shout, "You can't go in there!" before the window slid shut.
Mouse kept climbing the steps. His left foot smashed through a flimsy stair; he pulled it loose and kept going, gripping the blackened railing and pulling himself along. "Stop!" Michael called, but Mouse didn't. The staircase shook, a section of the railing suddenly breaking and tumbling down into a pit of debris. Mouse balanced on the edge for an instant, then grasped the railing on the other side and continued up. He reached a floor, about fifty feet above the ground, and stumbled over a pile of burned timbers, the weakened floorboards shrieking under him. "Louisa!" Mouse shouted. "It's me! I've come home, Louisa!" He went on into a warren of rooms that had been sliced open by the destruction, revealing the possessions of a dead family: a soot-coated oven; shattered crockery, and an occasional dish or cup that had miraculously survived the concussions; what had once been a pine-plank table, now burned down to its legs; the frame of a chair, springs rusting like coiled guts; the remnants of wallpaper on the walls as yellow as patches of leprosy, and against them the lighter squares where pictures used to hang. Mouse went through the small rooms, calling for Louisa, Carla, and Lucilla. Michael couldn't stop him, and there was no use in trying. He simply followed Mouse from room to room, close enough to grab him if the little man fell through the floor. Mouse entered what had been the parlor; there were holes in the floorboards where burning debris from above had settled and gone through. The couch where Louisa and the girls liked to sit was a burned tangle of springs. and the piano, their wedding gift from Louisa's grandparents, was a horror of keys and wires. But there was the fireplace of white bricks that had warmed Mouse and his family on so many frigid nights. and there was a bookcase, though few books remained. Even his favorite rocking chair had survived, though badly scorched. It was still there, just as he'd left it. and then Mouse looked at the wall, next to the fireplace, and Michael heard him gasp.
Mouse didn't move for a moment; then, slowly, he crossed the creaking floor and went to the framed Cross of Iron: his son's medal.
The frame's glass was cracked. Other than that, the Cross of Iron was unmarred. Mouse lifted the frame off the wall, his touch reverent, and read the inscription of his son's name and date of death. His body shook; his eyes glinted with madness. Two bright spots of crimson rose in his pale cheeks above the dirty beard.
Mouse hurled the framed Cross of Iron against the wall, and fragments of glass exploded across the room. The medal made a tinkling sound as it fell to the floor. at once he rushed forward, scooped the medal off the floor, and turned-his face swollen with rage-to throw it through a broken window.
Michael's hand clamped on Mouse's fist, and sealed it tight. "No," he said firmly. "Don't throw it away."
Mouse stared at him incredulously; he blinked slowly, his brain gears slipping on the grease of despair. He made a moaning sound, like the wind through the ruins of his home. and then Mouse lifted his other hand, balled it into a fist, and struck Michael as hard as he could across the jaw. Michael's head snapped back, but he didn't release Mouse, nor did he try to defend himself. Mouse hit him again, and a third time. Michael just stared at him, green eyes aflame and a drop of blood oozing from a cut on his lower lip. Mouse pulled his fist back to strike him a fourth time, and the little man saw Michael's jaw tense, preparing for the blow. all the strength suddenly drained out of Mouse's shoulder; his muscles went limp, and his hand opened. He slapped the face of Green Eyes, a weak slap. and then his arm fell to his side, his eyes stinging with tears, and his knees sagged. He started to fall, but Michael held him up.
"I want to die," Mouse whispered. "I want to die, I want to die, oh God please let me..."
"Stand up," Michael told him. "Come on, stand up."
Mouse's legs had no bones. He wanted to fall to this floor and lie there until Thor's hammer destroyed the earth. He smelled gunsmoke on the other man's clothes, and that bitter aroma brought back every horrifying second of the battle in the pine forest. Mouse wrenched away from Michael, and staggered back. "You stay away from me!" he shouted. "Damn you to hell, stay away!"
Michael said nothing. The storm was coming, and it would have to whirl its course.
"You're a killer!" Mouse shrieked. "a beast! I saw your face, there in the woods. I saw it, as you killed those men! Germans! My people! You shot that boy to pieces, and you never even flinched!"
"There wasn't time for flinching," Michael said.
"You enjoyed it!" Mouse raged on. "You liked the killing, didn't youi"
"No. I didn't."
"Oh God... Jesus... you've made me into a killer, too." Mouse's face contorted. He felt as if he were being wrenched apart by inner tides. "That young man... I murdered him. I killed him. Killed a German. Oh my God." He looked around the decimated room, and he thought he could hear the screams of his wife and two daughters as the bombs blew them to heaven. Where had he been, he wondered, when the allied bombers had dropped death onto his loved onesi He didn't even have a picture of them; all his papers, his wallet, and photographs had been taken from him in Paris. This was the cruelty that drove him to his knees. He scrabbled onto a pile of burned rubble and began to search desperately for a picture of Louisa and the children.
Michael wiped the blood from his lower lip with the back of his hand. Mouse flung bits of wreckage to either side, but he kept the Iron Cross in his fist. "What are you going to doi" Michael asked.
"You did this. You. The allies. Their bombers. Their hatred of Germany. Hitler was right. The world fears and hates Germany. I thought he was mad, but he was right." Mouse dug deeper into the debris; there were no pictures, only ashes. He scrambled to burned books and searched for the photographs that used to be on the shelves. "I'll turn you in. That's what I'll do. I'll turn you in, and then I'll go to church and beg forgiveness. My God... I murdered a German. I murdered a German, with my own hands." He sobbed and tears ran down his face. "Where are the picturesi Where are the picturesi"
Michael knelt down a few feet away from him. "You can't stay here."
"This is my home!" Mouse shouted, with a force that made the empty window frames shake. His eyes were bloodshot and sunken into his head. "This is where I live," he said, but this time it was a whisper from his raw throat.
"No one lives here." Michael stood up. "Gunther's waiting. It's time to go."
"Goi Go wherei" He was echoing the Russian prisoner who'd seen no purpose in flight. "You're a British spy, and I'm a citizen of Germany. My God... why I let you talk me into this; my soul's burning. Oh Christ, forgive me!"
"Hitler brought down the bombs that killed your family," Michael said. "You think no one grieved over the dead when Nazi planes bombed Londoni You think your wife and children were the only bodies ever taken out of a blasted buildingi If you do, you're a fool." He spoke calmly and quietly, but his green gaze pierced Mouse. "Warsaw, Narvik, Rotterdam, Sedan, Dunkirk, Crete, Leningrad, Stalingrad: Hitler strewed corpses as far north, south, east, and west as he could reach. Hundreds of thousands to grieve over, and you cry in the wreckage of a single room." He shook his head, feeling a mixture of pity and disgust. "Your country is dying. Hitler's killing it, but before he finishes the job he's going to destroy as many as he can. Your son, wife, and daughters: what are they to Hitleri Did they matteri I don't think so."
"You shut your mouth!" Tears glittered, false diamonds, in Mouse's beard.
"I'm sorry the bombs fell here," Michael continued. "I'm sorry they fell in London. But when the Nazis took power, and Hitler started this war, the bombs had to fall somewhere."
Mouse didn't reply. He couldn't find any photographs in the debris, and he sat on the burned floor rocking himself.
"Do you have relatives herei" Michael asked.
Mouse hesitated; then he shook his head.
"anywhere you can goi"
another shake of the head. Mouse sniffled and wiped his oozing nose.
"I have to finish my mission. You can go to the safe house with me, if you like. From there Gunther might be able to get you out of the country."
"This is my home," Mouse said.
"Is iti" Michael let the question hang; there was no answer. "If you want to live in a cemetery, that's up to you. If you want to stand up and go with me, come on. I'm leaving." Michael turned his back on Mouse, went through the flame-scarred rooms to the stairway, and descended to the street. Gunther and Dietz were drinking from the bottle of schnapps; the wind had grown bitter. Michael waited, near the row house's scorched entrance. He would give Mouse two minutes, he decided. If the man didn't come out, then Michael would decide what to do next. It was an unhappy situation; Mouse knew too much.
a minute passed. Michael watched two children digging through a pile of blackened bricks. They discovered a pair of boots, and one of the children chased the other from them. Then Michael heard the staircase creak, and he felt his muscles relax. Mouse walked out of the building, into the somber gray light. He looked up at the sky, and around at the other buildings, as if seeing things for the first time. "all right," he said, his voice weary and emotionless. His eyes were red-rimmed and swollen. "I'll go with you."
Once Michael and Mouse were back in the wagon, Gunther snapped the reins and the spavined farm horse started off. Dietz offered Michael the schnapps, and Michael drank from it, then held the bottle out for Mouse. The little man shook his head; he stared at his open right palm. In it was the Cross of Iron.
Michael didn't know what he would've done if Mouse hadn't come out. Kill himi Possibly. He didn't care to think about that. He was a professional, in a dirty business, and first and foremost was the mission at hand. Iron Fist. Frankewitz. Blok. Dr. Hildebrand, and gas warfare. and, of course, Harry Sandler. How did they all fit together, and what was the meaning of painted bullet holes on green metali
He would have to find out. If he failed, so might the allied invasion of Europe.
He settled back, against the wagon's side, and felt the outline of a submachine gun in the hay next to him. Mouse stared at the Iron Cross, mesmerized that such a small cold thing should be the last item that held any meaning in his life. and then he closed his hand around the medal and slipped it into his pocket.