The safe house was in the Neukolln district of Berlin, an area of grimy factories and row houses crowded along the railroad tracks. Gunther knocked at the door of a row house, and it was opened by a thin young man with close-cropped brown hair and a long-jawed face that looked as if it had never worn a smile. Dietz and Gunther escorted their charges into the building and up a staircase to the second floor, where Michael and Mouse were taken to a parlor and left alone. a middle-aged woman with curly gray hair came in about ten minutes later, bearing a tray of two cups of tea and slices of rye bread. She asked no questions, and Michael asked none of her. He and Mouse wolfed down the tea and bread.
The parlor windows were covered with blackout curtains. Perhaps half an hour after the tea and bread had been served, Michael heard the sound of a car stopping outside. He went to the window, pushed the curtain aside, and peered out. Night was falling, and there were no lamps along the street. The buildings were dark against the darkness. But Michael saw a black Mercedes parked at the curb, and he watched as the driver got out, walked around, and opened the door for the passenger. a woman's shapely leg came out first, then the rest of her. She glanced up at the crack of yellow lamplight that spilled around the blackout curtain's edge. She had no face. and then the driver closed the door, and Michael let the curtain fall back into place.
He heard voices from downstairs: Gunther's, and a woman's. an elegant German accent, very refined. There was aristocracy in its syllables, but it held a strangeness, too, something that Michael couldn't quite define. He heard someone ascending the stairs, heard the woman reach the closed parlor door.
The knob turned, the door opened, and the woman without a face walked in.
She wore a black hat, and a veil that obscured her features. She carried a black valise in her ebony-gloved hands, and she wore a black velvet cloak over a dark gray pinstriped dress. But golden curls escaped the hat, the thick blond hair falling in ringlets around her shoulders. She was a slim, tall woman, perhaps five feet ten, and Michael could see the glint of her eyes behind the veil as her gaze fixed on him, went to Mouse, then returned to him again. She closed the door behind her. Michael smelled her perfume: the faint aromas of cinnamon and leather.
"You're the man," she said in blue-blooded German. It was a statement, directed at Michael.
He nodded. Something strange about her accent. What was iti
"I'm Echo," she said. She put the black valise on a table and unzipped it. "Your companion is a German soldier. What's to be done with himi"
"I'm not a soldier!" Mouse protested. "I'm a cook! Was a cook, I mean."
Echo stared at Michael, her features impassive behind the veil. "What's to be done with himi" she repeated.
Michael knew what she was asking. "He can be trusted."
"The last man who believed anyone can be trusted is dead. You've brought along a dangerous liability."
"Mouse... my friend... wants to get out of the country. Can that be arran-"
"No," Echo interrupted. "I won't risk any of my friends to help yours. This..." She glanced quickly at the little man, and Michael could almost feel her cringe. "This Mouse is your responsibility. Will you take care of him, or shall Ii"
It was a polite way of asking if Michael would kill Mouse, or if one of her agents should do the job. "You're right," Michael agreed. "Mouse is my responsibility, and I'll take care of him." The woman nodded. "He goes with me," Michael said.
She was silent for a moment: an icy silence. Then: "Impossible."
"No, it's not. Back in Paris I depended on Mouse and he came through for me. as far as I'm concerned, he's proven himself."
"Not to me. and for that matter, neither have you. If you refuse to do your duty, I refuse to work with you." She zipped up the valise and started toward the door.
"I'll work without you, then," Michael said. and then the answer to her accent's mystery came to him: "I don't need a Yank's help, anyway."
She stopped, her black gloved hand on the doorknob. "Whati"
"a Yank's help. I don't need it," he repeated. "You are an american, aren't youi It's in your accent. The Germans around here must have lead ears not to hear it."
This seemed to touch a nerve. Echo said frostily, "For your information, Brit, the Germans know I was born in the United States. I'm a citizen of Berlin now. Does that satisfy youi"
"It answers my question, but it hardly satisfies me." Michael gave her a thin smile. "I imagine our mutual friend in London gave you some of my background." Except the part about his affinity for running on all fours, he knew. "I'm good at what I do. as I say, if you refuse to help me, I'll get the job done on my own-"
"You'll die trying," Echo interrupted.
"Maybe. But our mutual friend must have told you I can be trusted. I didn't live through North africa being stupid. If I say I'll be responsible for Mouse, I mean it. I'll take care of him."
"and who'll take care of youi"
"That's a question I've never had to answer," Michael said.
"Wait a minute!" Mouse scowled, his eyes still swollen from tears. "Don't I have anything to say about thisi Maybe I don't want you to take care of me! Who the hell asked you, anywayi I swear to God, I was better off in the loony bin! Those nuts made sense when they talked!"
"Quiet!" Michael snapped; Mouse was a breath away from an executioner's bullet. The little man cursed under his breath, and Michael returned his attention to the veiled woman. "Mouse has helped me before. He can help me again." Echo grunted with derision. "I didn't come to Berlin to murder a man who risked his life for me," Michael plowed on.
"Uh... murderi" Mouse gasped as he got the whole picture.
"Mouse goes with me." Michael stared into the veil. "I'll take care of him. and when the mission's over, you help us both get out of Germany."
Echo didn't respond. Her fingers tapped on the black valise as the wheels went round in her mind.
"Welli" Michael prompted.
"If our mutual friend were here, he'd say you're being very stupid," she tried once more, but she could tell that the dirty, bearded green-eyed man standing before her had chosen his position and would not be moved. She sighed, shook her head, and returned the valise to the table.
"What's happeningi" Mouse asked fearfully. "am I going to be murderedi"
"No," Michael told him. "You've just joined the British Secret Service."
Mouse choked, as if he'd gotten a chicken bone stuck in his throat.
"You have a new identity." Echo unzipped the valise, reached into it, and brought out a dossier. She offered it to him, but when Michael stepped forward to take it, Echo held her other hand to her nose. "My God, what a smell!"
Michael took the dossier and opened it. Inside were typewritten sheets of paper, in German, outlining the history of a Baron Frederick von Fange. Michael couldn't help but smile. "Who suggested thisi"
"Our mutual friend."
Of course, he thought. This bore the rather wicked fingerprints of the man he'd last seen as a chauffeur named Mallory. "From a pig farmer to a baron in one day. That's not bad, even for a country where money buys royal titles."
"The family is real enough. They're in the German social registry. But even though you may have a title," Echo said, "you still smell like a pig fanner. Here's the other information you requested." She gave him another dossier. Michael looked over the typewritten pages. Camille had radioed coded inquiries ahead to Echo, and Echo had done an excellent job in putting together background material on SS Colonel Jerek Blok, Dr. Gustav Hildebrand, and Hildebrand Industries. There were black-and-white photographs, blurred but serviceable, of the two men. She also provided a typewritten page on Harry Sandler, and a photograph of the big-game hunter sitting at a table surrounded by Nazi officers, a dark-haired woman on his lap. a hooded hawk gripped its talons to his forearm.
"You've been very thorough," Michael complimented her. Looking at Sandler's cruel, smiling face made his gut clench. "Is Sandler still in Berlini"
"Our primary assignment," she reminded him, "doesn't involve Harry Sandler. It's enough for you to know that Sandler won't be leaving Berlin anytime soon."
Of course she was right: first Iron Fist, then Sandler. "What about Frankewitzi" he asked.
That, too, had been among Camille's inquiries. "I know his address. He lives near Victoria Park, on Katzbach-strasse."
"and you'll take me to himi"
"Tomorrow. Tonight I think you should read that information and do your homework." She motioned toward the Von Fange biography. "and for God's sake, get yourself shaved and cleaned up. There are no bohemian barons in the Reich."
"What about mei" Mouse looked stricken. "What the hell am I supposed to doi"
"What, indeedi" Echo asked, and Michael could feel her staring at him.
He quickly skimmed the biography of the Baron von Fange: land holdings in austria and Italy, a family castle on the Saarbrucken River, a stable of thoroughbred horses, fast cars, expensively tailored clothes: the usual bounty of the privileged. Michael looked up from his reading. "I'll need a valet," he said.
"a whati" Mouse squeaked.
"a valet. Someone to hang up the expensive clothes I'm supposed to have." He turned his attention to Echo. "Incidentally, where are these clothesi I'm sure you don't expect me to play a baron's role with pig shit on my shirt."
"They'll take care of you here. and your 'valet,' too." She might have offered a hint of a smile; the veil made it difficult to tell. "My car will be here for you at oh-nine-hundred. My driver's name is Wilhelm." She zippered the valise and held it close to her side. "I think that concludes our business for now. Yesi" Without waiting for an answer, she strode to the door on her long, elegant legs.
"One minute," Michael said. She paused. "How do you know Sandler's planning on staying in Berlini"
"Knowing such things, Baron von Fange, is why I'm here. Jerek Blok's also in Berlin. It's no mystery: Blok and Sandler are both members of the Brimstone Club."
"The Brimstone Clubi What's thati"
"Oh," Echo said softly, "you'll find out. Good night, gentlemen." She opened the door and closed it behind her, and Michael listened to the sound of her footsteps as she descended the stairs.
"a valeti" Mouse sputtered. "What the hell do I know about being a damned valeti I've only owned three suits in my life!"
"Valets are seen and not heard. You do your part and we might get out of Berlin with our skins still on. I meant what I said about your joining the service. as long as you're with me-and I'm protecting you-I expect you to do what I say. Understoodi"
"Hell, no! What do I have to do to get my ass out of this cracki"
"Well, that's simple enough." Michael heard the Mercedes's engine growl. He went to the window, pulled the curtain aside slightly, and watched the car move away into the night. "Echo wants to kill you. I imagine she could do it with one bullet."
Mouse was silent.
"You think about it tonight," Michael told him. "If you do as I say, you can get out of this corpse of a country before the Russians swarm in. If not..." He shrugged. "It's your decision."
"Some choice! Either I get a bullet in my head or a Gestapo branding iron burning my balls off!"
"I'll try my best to make sure that doesn't happen," Michael said, knowing that if the Gestapo caught them, a red-hot iron to the testicles would be the least of the inflictions.
The gray-haired woman came to the parlor and escorted Michael and Mouse down the stairs, through a door at the back of the building, and then down more steps into a cobwebbed basement. Oil lamps flickered in a rat's nest of rooms, most of them empty or piled with broken furniture and other junk. They came to a wine cellar, where two other men waited; these two men moved aside a large rack of wine bottles, exposing a square hole cut in the bricks. Michael and Mouse followed the woman through a tunnel, into the basement of another row house-and there the rooms were well lit and clean, and held boxes of hand grenades, submachine gun and pistol ammunition, explosive detonator caps, fuses, and the like. The gray-haired woman led Michael and Mouse to a large chamber where several men and women were working at sewing machines. Racks of clothes-most of them German uniforms-stood around the room. Tape measures were produced, suits and shirts were chosen and marked for size, and a crate of shoes was brought out for the baron and his valet to go through. The women who took Mouse's measurements clucked and fretted, knowing it was going to be a long night of shortening trousers, shirt and coat sleeves. a man with hair clippers and a razor appeared. Someone else brought in buckets of hot water and cakes of coarse white soap that could scrub the warts off a frog. Under the strokes of clippers, razor, and soap, Michael Gallatin-who was no stranger to transformation-began to merge with his new identity. But as he changed, he recalled the aromas of cinnamon and leather, and he found himself wondering whose face lay behind the veil.