The soldier at the connection of cars shoved Michael along with the point of his pistol, and Michael went through the door into the opulent car where breakfast had been served. The soldier stayed behind, and the door hissed shut at Michael's back.
The metal shutters were all drawn. The chandelier lights burned low, as did the carriage lamps. Michael began walking through the car, but he stopped at the white linen-covered table.
The plates had not been cleared away. and there, in the remains of Sandler's steak, was the knife, stuck upright, the handle offered.
Michael stared at the knife. This was an interesting situation; why was the knife still therei One answer: Sandler expected him to take it. and what would happen if he didi Michael carefully placed a finger on the knife handle, felt all around it with a gentle touch, and found what he was seeking. a thin, almost invisible filament of wire was twined around the handle. It went up, hidden in the dimness of the room, to the chandelier overhead. Michael inspected the light fixture. Hidden in the ornamentation was a small brass pistol, and the filament was attached to its cocked trigger. He judged the angle of the barrel, realizing that if he'd pulled the knife from the steak the trigger would've tripped and a bullet would have gone through his left shoulder. Michael smiled grimly. So that was why he'd been left in his room for two hours. During that time Sandler and his train crew had been busy rigging up devices such as this. a ten-minute head start indeed, Michael thought. This game might've been over very quickly.
He decided to give Sandler something to think about, perhaps slow him down a little. He stepped aside, out of the pistol's line of fire, and kicked a leg out from underneath the table. as the table fell, the filament snapped and the pistol went off with a loud, sharp crack. The bullet blew splinters from the rosewood wall. Michael picked up the knife, and was amused anew; it had only a useless stub of a blade. He took the pistol from the chandelier, but he already knew what he would find. There had been only one bullet in the cylinder.
So much for that. He let the pistol fall to the carpet and went on through the car. But his steps were slower now, more wary. He looked for trip wires stretched along the floor, realizing at the same time that a trip wire might be waiting to brush through his hair. He paused at the door to the kitchen, his hand near the knob. Surely Sandler would expect him to try this door, to get at the utensils that might lie beyond it. The doorknob had been recently polished, and it shone like a promise. Too easy, Michael thought. Turning that knob might pull the trigger of a gun set up to blast him through the wood. He drew his hand away, retreated from the door, and kept going. another soldier stood guard in the next connection between cars, his heavy-lidded eyes showing no emotion. Michael wondered how many of Sandler's victims had even gotten past the first car. But he couldn't congratulate himself yet; there were three more cars between here and the locomotive.
Michael went through the door into the next car. There was a central aisle along its length, and rows of seats on either side of the aisle. The windows were sealed with metal shutters, but two chandeliers spaced equidistantly at the ceiling glowed with false cheer. The car swayed gently back and forth as the train followed a curve, and the whistle blew a brief warning note. Michael knelt down, looking along the aisle at knee level. If a trip wire was there, he couldn't see it. He was aware that Sandler would be after him by now, and at any moment the hunter might burst through the door at his back. Michael couldn't wait; he stood up and slowly began walking down the aisle, his hands up in the air in front of him and his eyes watching for the glint of a wire at his knees or ankles.
There was no wire, either above or below. Michael had begun to sweat a little bit; surely there was something in this car, waiting for him to blunder into it. Or was it empty of traps, and this simply a mind snarei He approached the second chandelier, about twenty feet from the next car. He looked up as he neared the chandelier, his eyes searching the brass arms for a concealed weapon; there was none.
His left foot sank about a quarter inch into the carpet, and he heard the small, soft click of a latch disengaging.
He had stepped on a pressure pad. He felt the cold wind of death on the back of his neck.
In an instant Michael had reached up, grasped the chandelier, and pulled his knees up to his chest. The shotgun that was hidden at the floor to his left boomed, the lead pellets passing across the aisle where his knees had been two seconds before and slamming into the seats on his right. In another heartbeat the shotgun's second barrel fired, demolishing the seats. Shards of wood and pieces of shredded fabric whirled in the concussion.
Michael lowered his feet to the floor and let go of the chandelier. Blue gunsmoke drifted around him. One glance at the wrecked seats told him what the shotgun would've done to his knees. Crippled, he'd have writhed on the floor until Sandler arrived.
He heard the whoosh of the door opening at the far end of the car. He looked back. Sandler, wearing a khaki hunter's outfit, lifted his rifle, took aim, and fired.
Michael was already diving to the floor. The bullet sang over his left shoulder and thunked off a shuttered window.
Before Sandler could fix his aim again. Michael leaped up in a blur of motion and crashed headlong through the door at his end of the car. a soldier was there, as Michael had expected. The man had a pistol in his hand, and reached down to grasp the back of Michael's coat and pull him to his feet.
Michael didn't wait for the man to haul him up; he sprang up under his own power, slamming the top of his head against the soldier's chin. The man staggered back, his eyes wide and blurred with pain. Michael grasped the man's wrist, keeping the gun turned aside, and struck with the flat of his hand upward against the sharp Germanic nose. The soldier's nose shattered, the nostrils spraying blood, and Michael grabbed hold of the Luger and slung the man away from him like a sack of straw. He whirled around, looking through the door's small glass inset. Sandler was more than halfway down the aisle. Michael lifted the Luger to fire through the glass and saw Sandler stop in his tracks. The rifle barrel was coming up. Both guns went off at the same instant.
Splinters of wood exploded around Michael, just as fragments of glass flew at Harry Sandler. What felt like a burning brand kissed Michael's right thigh, and the shock knocked him to his knees. The door's glass inset was gone, and there was a hole in the wood the size of a man's fist where Sandler's bullet had passed through. Michael fired again through the door, and was answered a few seconds later by another rifle slug that threw a shower of splinters and hit the wall over Michael's head. This was a dangerous place to stay. Michael got up in a crouch, one hand pressed to the spreading crimson stain at his right thigh, and backed through the next door into the car ahead.
The clattering roar of the train wheels made him turn. The car he stood in had no floor; it was just a metal-shuttered shell, and Michael stood on the edge looking down at the speeding blur of the railroad tracks. above his head an iron pipe attached to the ceiling went the length of the car, sixty feet or so. There was no way to the other side except hand over hand on the pipe. He looked toward the bullet-pocked door he'd just come through. Sandler was waiting, biding his time. Maybe one of the Luger slugs had hit him, or maybe the glass had blown into his face. It occurred to Michael that his best chance to get off this madman's leviathan was to continue to the locomotive and gain control of the throttle. If Sandler was gravely wounded, the soldiers would probably pick up the hunt. In any case he couldn't wait here very much longer; the rifle bullet had nicked a groove in his thigh, and he was losing a lot of blood. In another few minutes his strength would be a memory. He pushed the Luger down into his waistband and jumped over the rushing rails, locking his hands around the iron pipe. His body swung back and forth, warm blood creeping down his right leg. He started along the pipe, reaching out as far as he could with one hand before he let the other one loose.
Michael had made it past the midpoint when he heard, over the thunder of the wheels, the staccato bark of a high-powered rifle. The bullet hit the ceiling about six inches to the left of the pipe. Michael twisted his head, saw Sandler in the doorway behind him, chambering another round. Sandler was grinning, his face streaked with crimson rivulets from glass slashes. He lifted the rifle and took aim at Michael's head.
Michael held oh with one hand and wrenched the Luger from his waistband. He saw Sandler's finger on the trigger, and he knew he'd never get a shot off in time.
"Drop it!" Sandler bellowed over the noise. "Drop it, you son of a bitch, or I'll blow your damned head off!"
Michael paused. He was calculating in inches and fractions of seconds. No, he decided; Sandler's next bullet would hit its mark before the Luger could fire.
"I said drop the gun! Now!" Sandler's grin had become a twisted rictus, and blood dripped from his chin.
Michael's fingers opened. The Luger fell onto the rails, and was gone.
"I got you, didn't Ii" Sandler shouted, looking at the dark stain on Michael's thigh. "I knew I got you! You thought you were smart, didn't youi" He wiped his forearm across his face and stared at the crimson that smeared it. "You made me bleed, you son of a bitch!" he said, and Michael saw him blink dazedly. Glass shards glittered in the hunter's face. "You're a real card, Baron! I thought for sure the knife would get you! and the shotgun... that usually finishes the hunt! No one's ever made it this far before!"
Michael grasped the pipe with both hands. He was thinking furiously, cold sweat on his face. "You haven't got me yet," he said.
"The hell I don't! One squeeze of this trigger and I've got a new trophy!"
"You haven't caught me," Michael went on. "You call yourself a hunteri" He laughed harshly. "There's another car to go, isn't therei I can make it through whatever you've got in there... wounded leg and all!" He saw new interest-the thrill of the challenge-flare in Sandler's eyes. "You can shoot me right now, but I'll fall to the rails. You won't take me alive... and isn't that what it's all abouti"
It was the hunter's turn to laugh. He lowered his rifle and licked blood from his lips. "You've got guts, Baron! I never would've expected such guts from a tulip sniffer! Well, we've both drawn blood, ehi So we'll call the first round even. But you won't make it through the next car, Baron; that I promise you."
"I say I will."
Sandler grinned fiercely. "We'll see. Go on. I'll give you sixty seconds."
Michael took what he could get. He continued along the pipe. Sandler shouted, "Next time, you're meat!" Michael reached a small platform in front of the next door and swung himself down onto it. The soldier who guarded the entrance to the final car stepped back, out of Michael's reach, and motioned him on with a gesture of his gun. Michael glanced back, saw Sandler sliding the rifle strap around his shoulder in preparation for crossing the pipe. The final car awaited, and Michael entered it.
The door closed behind him. Its glass inset was painted black. Not a trace of light entered the car; it was as dark as the blackest night. Michael looked for shapes before him-furniture, light fixtures, anything to tell him what lay ahead-but could make out nothing. He held his hands out in front of his face and stepped forward. another step. Then a third. Still no obstructions. The wound at his thigh was a dull throb, the blood oozing down his leg. He took a fourth step, and something bit his fingers.
He pulled his hands back, his fingers stinging. Razors or broken glass, he thought. He reached out again, to his left, felt empty space. Two steps forward and a third to the left grazed his hand against more razors. Michael's blood had gone cold. It was a maze, he realized. The maze's walls were covered with broken razors.
He quickly took his coat off and wrapped it around his hands. Then he started forward again, deeper into the absolute dark. His senses quested; he sniffed the air, smelled engine oil, the bitter scent of burning coal in the locomotive, his own coppery blood. His heart was pounding, his eyes straining to make out shapes in the blackness. His hands touched another wall of razors, directly in front of him. He found a razor-studded wall to his left as well; the maze was leading him to the right, and he had no choice but to follow the passageway. It turned sharply to the left again, suddenly ceasing in a dead end. Michael knew he'd missed a corridor somewhere, and he'd have to backtrack. as he searched for the way out, the razors shredding the coat around his hands, he heard the door open and close at the entrance to the car: Sandler had arrived.
"Like my little maze, Baroni" Sandler asked. "I hope you're not afraid of the dark."
Michael knew better than to answer. Sandler would key in on the sound of his voice. He felt along the walls, wincing as a razor came through the fabric and sliced his fingers. There it was! a narrow corridor-or, at least, what appeared to be a corridor. He moved into it and kept going with his hands up in front of him.
"I can't figure you out, Baron!" Sandler said. The voice had moved; Sandler was coming through the maze. "I thought you'd break by now! Or maybe you have broken, and you're lying huddled in a corner. Is that righti"
Michael came to another wall. The corridor turned to the right at an angle that grazed blades through his shirt and across the flesh of his shoulder.
"I know you're terrified. Who wouldn't bei You know, for me that's the most thrilling part of the hunt: the terror in the eyes of an animal when it realizes there's no way out. Oh, did I tell you I know the way through this mazei I built it, you see. The razors are a nice touch, don't you thinki"
Keep talking, Michael thought. The sound told him that Sandler was to his left, perhaps fifteen or twenty feet behind him. Michael went on, easing his way between the razors.
"I know you must be cut to pieces by now," Sandler said. "You should be wearing leather gloves, like I am. One must always be prepared, Baron; that's the mark of a true hunter."
a wall blocked Michael's way. He searched left and right for another passage. Sandler's voice was getting closer.
"If you surrender, I'll make it easy on you. all you have to say are three words: 'I give up.' I'll make your death a quick one. Is that agreeable to youi"
Michael's hands found the wall's edge, to his left. The coat was in tatters around his fingers, the cloth damp with blood. He could feel his strength leaving him, his muscles weakening. His wounded leg was going numb. But the doorway out of this car had to be just ahead, no more than another fifteen feet. Its glass inset would also be painted black, he reasoned. So finding the door would be difficult. He moved along the left-slanting corridor, the car swaying as the train rounded a curve. The corridor straightened out. The smell of burning coal was stronger. The door must be close, he thought. Not much farther to go now...
He took two more steps, and heard the metallic ping of a trip wire snapping.
Even as Michael flung himself forward to the floor, a row of flashbulbs exploded in his face. The light seared his eyes, made blue pinwheels whirl in his brain. He lay dazed, his balance and equilibrium destroyed, his eyes prickling with pain as if they, too, had been sliced.
"Oh, you almost got out, didn't youi" Sandler's voice came from about twelve feet behind and to the right. "Just wait for me, Baron. I'll be there shortly."
Michael's eyes were full of blue fire. He crawled out of the middle of the corridor, and lay with his back pressed up against a blade-covered wall. Sandler was striding toward him; he could hear the man's boots on the floorboards. He knew the hunter would expect to find him totally helpless, writhing in pain with his hands clawing at his eyes. He turned his body so his arms were unhindered, and he pulled his hands out of the shredded coat.
"Say something, Baron," Sandler urged. "So I can find you and put you out of your misery."
Michael remained silent, lying on his side. He listened to the noise of Sandler's footsteps, getting closer. Come on, damn you! Michael seethed. Come on, I'm waiting!
"Baroni The hunt's ended, I think." Michael heard the bolt click back on Sandler's rifle.
He smelled the man's minty after-shave. and then he heard the squeak of polished leather, the soft groan of a floorboard, and he knew Sandler's boots were within reach.
Michael grasped out with both hands, trusting his sense of hearing. His fingers found Sandler's ankles, in the middle of the corridor, and locked tight. He shoved forward and up with all the strength of his back and shoulders.
Sandler had no time to cry out. He fell, his torso twisting. The rifle went off, the bullet thunking into the ceiling, and he crashed against one of the razor-studded walls.
Then the hunter screamed.
as Sandler hit the floor, thrashing in pain, Michael leaped upon him. His hands closed on the hunter's throat and began to squeeze. Sandler choked-and then a wooden object slammed into the side of Michael's jaw and the rifle's butt knocked Michael's grip loose. Michael held the hunter's shirt. Sandler was trying to scramble away from him, and again the rifle butt struck Michael, this time across the collarbone. Michael fell backward, his vision still blinded by blue whorls, and he felt the wall's razors bite into his shoulders. The rifle went off once more, the spark of fire leaping from its barrel but the bullet going wild. Michael flung himself onto Sandler again, and drove him against the razors. again Sandler screamed in pain, and terror was mingled in the cry as well. Michael got hold of the rifle, hung on to it as Sandler fought wildly. Leather-gloved fingers jabbed for Michael's eyes, grabbed his hair, and wrenched it. Michael struck his fist into the hunter's body, and heard a whoosh as the air exploded from the man's lungs.
They fought on their knees in the corridor, the car swaying and the razors at their backs. The rifle was between them, both men trying to use it as leverage to get to their feet. It was a silent struggle, with death awaiting the loser. Michael got one foot under him. He was about to haul himself up when Sandler's fist struck him hard in the solar plexus and knocked him down again. Sandler got his knee up, and it cracked Michael under the chin. The rifle pressed down across Michael's throat with all of Sandler's weight behind it. Michael struggled but he couldn't push the hunter off. He reached up, grasped Sandler's head, and shoved the man's face against the razored wall beside him. Sandler howled with agony, and the weight was gone from atop Michael.
Sandler scrambled to his feet, the rifle still in his grip. Michael reached out, snagged one of his ankles, and made him reel into the opposite wall. Sandler had had enough of his maze; he wrenched his foot out of Michael's grasp and staggered along the corridor, stumbling against the walls and bellowing with pain as the razors slashed him. Michael heard him fumbling with a doorknob, trying to get it open with a blood-slick hand, and at once he was on his feet going after the hunter.
Sandler threw his shoulder against the door. It burst open, flooding the corridor with harsh sunlight. The razors-hundreds of them on either side-glinted in the glare, and some of them were smeared with crimson. Michael was blinded anew, but he could see well enough to make out Sandler's silhouette framed in the doorway. He lunged forward and crashed into the hunter, the force of the blow taking them both through the doorway and onto the car's open-air platform.
Sandler, his face slashed to bloody ribbons and his eyes blinded by the sun, screamed, "Kill him! Kill him!" to the soldier who'd been standing guard on the platform. The man was momentarily stunned by the sight of the two gore-splattered figures who'd exploded from the car, and his Luger was still holstered. His hand went to the holster flap and unsnapped it, then he gripped the gun and started to pull it out.
Squinting in the glare, Michael saw the soldier as a dark shape against a field of fire. He kicked the man in the groin before the Luger's barrel could find him, and as the soldier bent over, Michael brought his knee up into the man's face and knocked him backward over the platform's iron railing. The Luger fired into the air as the soldier vanished.
"Help me!" Sandler was on his knees on the platform, screaming to anyone who could hear. But the noise of the wheels silenced his voice. Michael put his foot down on Sandler's rifle, then visored his hand over his eyes to cut the glare: ahead of the platform was the coal tender and the locomotive, the stack spouting a plume of black smoke. Sandler was crouched over, blood dripping from his face, crimson splotches all over his khaki jacket. "Help me!" he shouted, but his voice was feeble. He shivered and moaned, rocking himself back and forth.
"I'm going to kill you," Michael said, in English. Sandler's rocking abruptly stopped. He kept his head lowered, drops of blood tapping to the metal. "I want you to think about a name: Margritta Phillipe. Do you remember heri"
Sandler didn't reply. The train was moving through a green forest once more, outside the boundaries of Berlin. From where Michael and the hunter were, neither the train's engineer nor the fire stoker could see them. Michael prodded Sandler's side with the toe of his shoe. "The Countess Margritta. In Cairo." He felt drained, all used up, and his knees were in jeopardy of buckling. "I hope to God you remember her, because you had her murdered."
Sandler finally looked up, his face lacerated, his eyes swollen into slits. "Who are youi" he rasped, speaking English.
"I was Margritta's friend. Stand up."
"You're... not German, are youi"
"Stand up," Michael repeated. He kept his weight on the rifle, but he'd decided against using it. He was going to break Sandler's neck with his bare hands and throw him off the train like a garbage sack. "On your feet. I want you looking at me when I kill you."
"Please..." Sandler moaned. His nostrils drooled blood. "Please... don't kill me. I've got money. I'll pay you a lot of money."
"That doesn't interest me. Get up!"
"I can't. Can't stand up." Sandler shivered again, his body crouched forward. "My legs... I think my legs are broken."
Michael felt a hot flare of rage course through him. How many men-and women-had Harry Sandler broken for the twisted cause of Nazi Germanyi Had their cries for mercy been listened toi Michael thought not. Sandler was anxious to pay a price; so he would. Michael reached down, grasped the back of the hunter's khaki jacket, and started to haul him to his feet.
and in doing so, Michael put his hand into a final snare.
Because Sandler-shamming again, just as he'd shammed his drunkenness-suddenly uncoiled, his teeth gritted with fury, and the blade of the knife he'd drawn from inside his right boot glinted with yellow sunlight.
The knife came up in a vicious blur, its point aimed at the center of Michael Gallatin's stomach.
Less than two inches from penetration, the blade was checked. a hand seized Sandler's wrist, clamping tight. Sandler stared at that hand, his slitted eyes stunned.
The hand was not quite human, but neither was it fully an animal's claw. It was streaked with black hair, the fingers beginning to contort and retract into talons. Sandler gasped, and looked up into the man's face.
The baron's facial bones were shifting, the nose and mouth extending into a dark-haired muzzle. The mouth strained open, making room for the fangs as they slid, dripping saliva from amid the human teeth. Sandler was struck senseless; the knife clattered to the platform. He smelled an animalish reek, the odors of sweat and wolf hair. He opened his mouth to scream.
Michael, his spine already bending, thrust his face forward and sank his fangs into the hunter's throat. With a quick, savage twist of his head, he ripped out flesh and veins and crushed Sandler's windpipe. He pulled his head back, leaving a gaping hole where Sandler's throat had been. The man's eyes blinked and his face twitched, the nerves and muscles losing control. The scent of carnage overwhelmed Michael; he struck again, his fangs winnowing into the scarlet tissue, his head thrashing back and forth as he chewed all the way to the hunter's spinal cord. His fangs crunched on the spine, burst it open, and kept gnawing past the splintered edges. When Michael pulled back from Sandler this time, the hunter's head hung to the body by strands of tough muscle and connective tissue. a moan came from the windpipe's hole, as Sandler's lungs stuttered. Michael, his shirt ripping apart at the seams and his trousers drooping around his lower body, put a foot against the hunter's chest and shoved.
What was left of Harry Sandler toppled backward, and slithered off the speeding train.
Michael spat out a mouthful of flesh and lay on his side, his body between its two poles. He knew he had yet to get to the locomotive and slow the train; a wolf's paws couldn't control levers. He held himself back from a complete change, the wild winds whirling in his mind and the muscles rippling beneath the dark-haired flesh under a human's clothes. His toes ached in the stiff shoes, and his shoulders longed to burst free. Not yet! Michael thought. Not yet! He began to come back, over the primeval distance his body had already traveled, and in perhaps half a minute he sat up, his human skin slick with sweat and his wounded leg full of frost.
He grasped the rifle; there was a bullet in the chamber. Then he stood up, his brain and muscles sluggish, and climbed the ladder to the walkway that went across the top of the coal tender. He crouched to the locomotive, saw the engineer and fire stoker at work beneath the engine's overhang, and then he eased down the ladder into the locomotive.
When the two men saw him, they instantly lifted their hands in surrender; they were drivers, not fighters. "Off the train," Michael said, speaking in German again. He motioned with the rifle. "Now." The fire stoker jumped, rolling down a bluff into the woods. The engineer hesitated, his eyes wide with fear, until Michael pressed the rifle barrel to his throat. Then, preferring a shock to the bones instead of a bullet through the neck, the engineer leaped from the locomotive.
Michael grasped the red-handled throttle and cut the engine's speed. He leaned out and saw the bridge over the Havel River approaching. In the distance stood the towers of the Reichkronen. Here was as good a place as any. He throttled down and climbed up onto the top of the coal tender once more. The locomotive neared the bridge, its wheels grinding a slower rhythm. a steam valve was screaming, but Michael had no time to worry about that. The train was still going to cross the bridge at a good clip. He stood up, one hand clasped to his wounded thigh. The railroad bridge narrowed, and dark green water beckoned him. He spat out another piece of skin; Sandler's flesh was caught in his teeth. He hoped the river was deep under the bridge. If not, he'd soon be kissing mud.
Michael took a deep breath, and jumped.