Chesna unlocked the white door and turned the ornate brass knob. The smell of fresh roses and lavender rushed at Michael as he crossed the threshold.
The living room, a majesty of white furniture, had a twenty-foot ceiling and a fireplace with green marble tiles. French doors led out to a terrace, which overlooked the river and the forest beyond. Resting atop a white Steinway piano was a large crystal vase that held roses and sprigs of lavender. On the wall above the fireplace was a framed painting of a steely-eyed adolf Hitler.
"Cozy," Michael said.
Chesna locked the door. "Your bedroom is through there." She nodded toward a corridor.
Michael went through it and looked around the spacious bedroom with its dark oak furniture and paintings of various Luftwaffe airplanes. His luggage was neatly arrayed in a closet. He returned to the living room. "I'm impressed," he said, which was an understatement. He laid his topcoat down on the sofa and walked to one of the high windows. Rain was still falling, tapping on the glass, and mist covered the forest below. "Do you pay for this, or do your friendsi"
"I do. and it's not inexpensive." She went to the onyx-topped bar, got a glass from a shelf, and opened a bottle of spring water. "I'm wealthy," she added.
"all from actingi"
"I've starred in ten films since 1936. Haven't you heard of mei"
"I've heard of Echo," he said. "Not Chesna van Dorne." He opened the French doors and inhaled the misty, pine-scented air. "How is it that an american became a German film stari"
"Talent. Plus I was in the right place at the right time." She drank her spring water and put the glass aside. " 'Chesna' comes from 'Chesapeake.' I was born on my father's yacht, in Chesapeake Bay. My father was German, my mother was from Maryland. I've lived in both countries."
"and why did you choose Maryland over Germanyi" he asked pointedly.
"My allegiance, you meani" She smiled faintly. "Well, I'm not a believer in that man over the fireplace. Neither was my father. He killed himself in 1934, when his business failed."
Michael started to say I'm sorry, but there was no need. Chesna had simply made a statement. "Yet you make films for the Nazisi"
"I make films to make money. also, how better to cultivate their good gracesi Because of what I do and who I am, I can get into places that many others can't. I overhear a lot of gossip, and sometimes I even see maps. You'd be amazed how a general can brag when his tongue's loosened by champagne. I'm Germany's Golden Girl. My face is even on some of the propaganda posters." She lifted her brows. "You seei"
Michael nodded. There was much more to be learned about Chesna van Dorne; was she, like her screen characters, also a fabricationi In any case, she was a beautiful woman, and she held Michael's life in her hands. "Where's my friendi"
"Your valet, you meani In the servants' wing." She motioned toward a white telephone. "You can reach him by dialing our room number plus 'nine.' We can order room service for you, too, if you're hungry."
"I am. I'd like a steak." He saw her look sharply at him. "Rare," he told her.
"I'd like you to know something," Chesna said, after a pause. She walked to the windows and peered out at the river, her face painted with stormy light. "Even if the invasion is successful-and the odds are against it-the allies will never reach Berlin before the Russians. Of course the Nazis are expecting an invasion, but they don't know exactly when or where it will come. They're planning on throwing the allies back into the sea so they can turn all their strength to the Russian Front. But it won't help them, and by that time the Russian Front will be the border of Germany. So this is my last assignment; when we've completed our mission, I'm getting out with you."
"and my friend. Mouse."
"Yes," she agreed. "Him, too."
as the lycanthrope and the film star discussed their future, a gunmetal-gray staff car with an SS pennant drove through the hotel's courtyard a hundred and forty feet below. The car crossed the pontoon bridge and headed along the paved forest road that had brought Michael and Mouse to the Reichkronen. It entered Berlin and began to wind its way southeast toward the factories and dirty air of the Neukolln district. Black clouds were sliding in from the east, and thunder boomed like distant bomb blasts. The car reached a block of grimy row houses and the driver stopped in the street, heedless of other traffic. No horns blew; the SS pennant silenced all complaint.
a hulking man in an aide's uniform, a gray peaked cap, and polished jackboots got out, and he went around to the other side and opened the door. The rear seat's passenger, a rail-thin figure in uniform, a brimmed cap, and a long dark green overcoat, stepped out of the car, and he stalked into a particular row house with the larger man following at his heels. The gunmetal-gray car stayed exactly where it was. This wouldn't take very long.
On the second floor a burly fist knocked at a door marked with a tarnished number "5."
Inside the apartment there was the sound of coughing. "Yesi Who is iti"
The officer in the dark green overcoat nodded.
Boots lifted his right foot and kicked the door. It broke with a shriek of splitting wood, but the locks kept it from flying open. The door's stubbornness made Boots's face turn crimson with rage; he kicked it again, and a third time. "Stop it!" the man inside shouted. "Please, stop it!"
The fourth kick caved the door in. Theo von Frankewitz stood there in his blue silk robe, his eyes bulging with terror. He backed away, stumbled over a table, and fell to the floor. Boots entered the apartment, his metal-studded soles clacking. Frightened people had opened their doors and were peering out, and the officer in the overcoat shouted, "Back in your holes!" Their doors slammed, and locks clicked shut.
Frankewitz was on his hands and knees, scuttling across the floor. He jammed himself into a corner, his hands up in a gesture of supplication. "Please don't hurt me!" he shrieked. "Please don't!" His cigarette holder, the cigarette still smoldering, lay on the floor, and Boots crushed it underfoot as he approached the whimpering man.
Boots stopped, standing over him like a fleshy mountain.
Tears were crawling down Frankewitz's cheeks. He was trying to press himself into the wall of his apartment. "What do you wanti" he said, choking, coughing, and crying at the same time. He looked at the SS officer. "What do you wanti I did the work for you!"
"So you did. and very well indeed." The officer, his face narrow and pinched, walked into the room and glanced around distastefully. "This place smells. Don't you ever open your windowsi"
"They... they... they won't open." Frankewitz's nose was running, and he snuffled and moaned at the same time.
"No matter." The officer waved a thin-fingered hand impatiently. "I've come to do some housecleaning. The project's finished, and I won't be needing your talents again."
Frankewitz understood what that meant. His face grew distorted. "No... I'm begging you, for the love of God... I did the work for you... I did the-"
The officer nodded again, a signal to Boots. The huge man kicked Frankewitz in the chest, and there was a wet cracking noise as the breastbone broke. Frankewitz howled. "Stop that caterwauling!" the officer commanded. Boots picked up a throw pillow from the sea-green sofa, ripped it open, and pulled out a handful of cotton stuffing. He grasped Frankewitz's hair and jammed the stuffing into the man's gasping mouth. Frankewitz writhed, trying to claw at Boots's eyes, but Boots easily dodged the fingers; he kicked Frankewitz in the ribs and staved him in like a brine-soaked barrel. The screaming was muffled, and now it didn't bother Blok so much.
Boots kicked Frankewitz in the face, burst his nose open, and dislocated the jaw. The artist's left eye swelled shut, and a purple bruise in the shape of a boot sole rose on his face. Frankewitz began, in desperation and madness, to try to claw his way through the wall. Boots stomped his spine, and Frankewitz contorted like a crushed caterpillar.
It was chilly in the damp little room. Blok, a man with a low tolerance for discomfort, walked over to the small fireplace grate, where a few meager flames danced amid the ashes. He stood close to the grate and tried to warm his hands; they were almost always cold. He had promised Boots he could have Frankewitz. Blok's initial plan had been to dispatch the artist with a bullet, now that the project was done and Frankewitz wouldn't be called on to do any retouching, but Boots had to be exercised like any large animal. It was like letting a trained Doberman go through its paces.
Boots broke Frankewitz's left arm with a kick to the shoulder. Frankewitz had ceased his struggling, which disappointed Boots. The artist lay limply as Boots continued to stomp him.
It would be over soon, Blok thought. Then they could get back to the Reichkronen and out of this miserable-
Blok had been staring at a small red eye of flame, there in the grate, as a piece of paper curled and burned. Frankewitz had just recently torn something up and cast it into the grate, and not all of it had been consumed. In fact, Blok could see a bit of what had been drawn on the paper: it looked like a man's face, with a sweep of dark hair hanging down over the forehead. a single bulging, cartoonish eye remained; the other had been burned away.
It was a familiar drawing. Too familiar.
Blok's heart started to pound. He reached down into the ashes and pulled out the fragment of paper. Yes. a face. His face. The lower part of it had been burned, but the sharp bridge of the nose was familiar, too. Blok's throat was dry. He rummaged in the ashes, found another unburned bit of paper. This one had what appeared to be a representation of iron armor on it, fastened with rivets.
"Stop it," Blok whispered.
another kick was delivered. Frankewitz made no noise.
"Stop it!" Blok shouted, standing upright. Boots restrained the next kick, which would have shattered Frankewitz's skull, and stepped back from the body.
Blok knelt beside Frankewitz, grasped the man's hair, and lifted his head off the floor. The artist's face had become a work of surrealism, rendered in shades of blue and crimson. Bloody cotton hung from the split lips and red streams ran from the smashed nostrils, but Blok could hear the faint rumbling of Frankewitz's lungs. The man was hanging on to life. "What's thisi" Blok held the fragments of paper before Frankewitz's face. "answer me! What's thisi" He realized Frankewitz couldn't answer, so he put the paper on the floor-avoiding the blood-and started pulling the cotton out of the man's mouth. It was a messy labor, and Blok scowled with disgust. "Hold his head up and get his eyes open!" he told Boots.
The aide gripped Frankewitz's hair and tried to force the eyelids open. One eye had been destroyed, jammed deeply into the socket. The other eye was bloodshot, and protruded as if in mockery of the cartoon eye on the piece of paper Blok held. "Look at this!" Blok demanded. "Can you hear mei"
Frankewitz moaned softly, a wet gurgling in his lungs.
"This is a copy of the work you did for me, isn't iti" Blok held the paper in front of the man's face. "Why did you draw thisi" It wasn't likely that Frankewitz had drawn it for his own amusement, and that brought another question to Blok's thin lips: "Who saw iti"
Frankewitz coughed, drooling blood. His good eye moved in the socket and found the fragment of char-edged paper.
"You drew the picture," Blok went on, speaking as if to a retarded child. "Why did you draw the picture, Theoi What were you going to do with iti"
Frankewitz just stared, but he was still breathing.
They weren't going to get anywhere this way. "Damn it to hell!" Blok said as he stood up and crossed the room to the telephone. He picked up the receiver, carefully wiped the mouthpiece with his sleeve, and dialed a four-digit number. "This is Colonel Jerek Blok," he told the operator. "Get me medical. Hurry!" He examined the paper again as he waited. There was no doubt; Frankewitz had repeated the drawing from memory, then tried to burn it. That fact made alarms go off in Blok's brain. Who else had seen this drawingi Blok had to know, and the only way to find out was to keep Frankewitz alive. "I need an ambulance!" he told the Gestapo medical officer who came to the phone. He gave the man the address. "Get over here as fast as you can!" he said, almost shouting, and hung up. Then Blok returned to Frankewitz, to make sure the man was still breathing. If the information died with this pansy-balled street artist, Blok's own throat would be kissed by a noose. "Don't die!" he told Frankewitz. "Do you hear me, you bastardi Don't die!"
Boots said, "Siri If I'd known you didn't want me to kill him, I wouldn't have kicked him so hard."
"Never mind! Just go outside and wait for the ambulance!" after Boots had clumped out, Blok turned his attention to the canvases over by the easel and began to go through them, tossing them aside in his fearful search for any more such drawings as on the scraps of paper clenched in his hand. He found none, but that didn't ease him. He damned his decision not to execute Frankewitz long before now, but there had always been the possibility that more work was needed and one artist in on the project was enough. On the floor, Frankewitz had a fit of coughing, and spewed blood. "Shut up!" Blok snapped. "You're not going to die! We have ways to keep you alive! Then we'll kill you later, so shut up!"
Frankewitz complied with the colonel's command and slipped into unconsciousness.
The Gestapo's surgeons would put him back together, Blok mused. They would lace his bones with wires, sew together the gashes, and screw his joints into the sockets. Then he would look more like Frankenstein than Frankewitz, but drugs would grease his tongue and make him speak: why he'd drawn this picture, and who had seen it. They had come too far with Iron Fist to let it be ruined by this battered meat on the floor.
Blok sat down on the sea-green sofa, its arms protected with lace coverlets, and in a few minutes he heard the klaxon horn of the ambulance approaching. Blok reasoned that the gods of Valhalla were smiling on him, because Frankewitz was still breathing.