The morning sun was warm and placid on Chesna's face, but inside a storm raged. She stood on the grassy riverbank in front of the Reichkronen, watching the rowboats slowly move with the current, then against it. They had been dragging the river for over four hours, but Chesna knew the nets would only find mud and river grass. Wherever the baron was, it was not at the bottom of the Havel.
"I tell you, it's a lie," Mouse said, standing next to Chesna. He was speaking quietly, because the search for the Baron von Fange had attracted a throng of onlookers. "Why would he have come down here, alonei and, besides, he wouldn't have gotten drunk. Damn it, I knew I shouldn't have let him out of my sight." The little man scowled and fretted. "Somebody had to take care of the fool!"
Chesna's tawny eyes watched the progress of the row-boats, the soft breeze stirring her golden hair. She wore a black dress: her trademark color, not her mourning suit. Soldiers had searched the banks several miles downriver, in case the body had washed up in the shallows. It was of no use, she thought. This was a sham; but whose sham, and whyi One possibility had occurred to her, and sent shocks of alarm through her nerves: he'd been caught while exploring Jerek Blok's suite and taken away for questioning. If that were so, Colonel Blok hadn't given anything away when he'd told Chesna earlier this morning that the police had been summoned to start dragging the river. Other thoughts gnawed at her: if the baron broke under torture, he might tell everything he knew. Her own neck, and the necks of others in her finely tuned anti-Nazi organization, might be destined for piano-wire nooses. So should she stay here and continue to play the role of worry-wrought fiancee, or get out while she couldi and there was the matter of Blok and Frankewitz, as well; the colonel had told a Gestapo doctor he wanted Theo von Frankewitz able to answer questions within twelve hours. That time limit was ticking away.
The river nets were not going to find Baron von Fange. Perhaps he was already snared in a net, and perhaps a net was about to enshroud her and her friends, too. I've got to get out, she decided. Make up some excuse. Get to the airport and my plane and try to make it to Switzerland...
Mouse glanced over his shoulder and inwardly quaked. Coming toward them were Colonel Blok and the monstrous man who wore polished jackboots. He felt like a pigeon about to be plucked and boiled in oil. But he knew the truth now: his friend-the baron, ha!-had been right. It was Hitler who had killed Mouse's wife and family, and it was men like Jerek Blok who were Hitler's weapons. Mouse slid his hand into the pocket of his perfectly creased gray trousers and touched the Iron Cross there. It had sharp edges.
"Chesnai" Blok called. The sun glinted off his silver teeth. "any resultsi"
"No." She tried to keep the wariness out of her voice. "They haven't found so much as a shoe."
Blok, wearing a crisp black SS uniform, positioned himself on Chesna's other side, and Boots stood like a mountain behind Mouse. The colonel shook his head. "They won't find him, I'm afraid. The current's very strong here. If he went in anywhere near this point, he might be miles downriver by now. Or snagged on an underwater log, or caught between rocks, or..." He noted that Chesna looked pallid. "I'm sorry, my dear. I didn't mean to be so vivid."
She nodded. Mouse could hear the huge man breathing like a bellows behind him, and drops of sweat fell from his underarms. Chesna said, "I haven't seen Harry this morning. I would've thought he'd be interested in all this."
"I called his room just a few minutes ago," Blok said. "I told him what must've happened to the baron." Blok squinted in the glare off the gently rippling water. "Harry isn't feeling too well. Sore throat, he said. I think he's planning on sleeping most of the day... but he did tell me to convey his condolences."
"I don't think we know the baron's dead yet, do wei" Chesna asked coldly.
"No, we don't," Blok agreed. "But two witnesses said they saw him stumbling along the riverbank, and-"
"Yes, yes, I know all that! But they didn't see him fall into the river, did theyi"
"One of them thought he heard a splash," Blok reminded her. He reached out and touched Chesna's elbow, but she pulled away. His fingers lingered in midair for a few seconds, then he dropped his hand. "I know you... had strong feelings for the man, Chesna. I'm sure you're quite upset as well," he said to Mouse. "But facts are facts, aren't theyi If the baron didn't fall into the river and drown, then where is-"
"We've got something!" shouted one of the men in a rowboat, about forty yards offshore. He and his companion began to pull mightily at their dredge. "It's heavy, whatever it is!"
"The net's probably caught on a sunken log," Blok said to Chesna. "I'm afraid the current carried the baron's body far down-"
The net broke the surface. In its folds was a human body, dark with clinging mud.
Blok's mouth hung open.
"We've got him!" the man in the rowboat shouted, and Chesna felt her heart swell. "My God!" came the man's voice. "He's alive!" The two men struggled to pull the human body up over the rowboat's side, and the muddy figure splashed in the water and heaved itself in.
Blok took three steps forward. Water and mud swirled around his boots. "Impossible!" he gasped. "It's... utterly impossible!"
The onlookers, who'd been expecting a soggy corpse, if anything, surged closer as the rowboat angled toward the riverbank. The man who'd just been hauled from a wet grave pushed aside the folds of the net to get his legs free. "Impossible!" Chesna heard Colonel Blok whisper; he glanced back at Boots, his face white as cheese. Mouse gave a joyful cry when he saw the black hair and green eyes of the man in the rowboat, and he ran out into the water in his creased trousers to help pull the craft to shore.
as the boat keel bit solid earth, Michael Gallatin stepped out. His shoes squeaked, and mud clung to what used to be a white shirt. He still wore his bow tie.
"Good God!" Mouse said, stretching to put his arm around the man's shoulders. "We thought we'd lost you!"
Michael nodded. His lips were gray, and he was shivering. The water had been quite chilly.
Chesna couldn't move. But then she remembered herself, and rushed forward to throw her arms around the baron. He winced, supporting his weight on one leg, and he clasped his muddy arms to her back. "You're alive, you're alive!" Chesna said. "Oh, thank God you're alive!" She summoned tears, and they trickled down her cheeks.
Michael inhaled Chesna's fresh aroma. The chill of the river had kept him from passing out during the long swim, but now the weakness was catching up with him. The last hundred yards, then a short underwater swim to get himself tangled in the dredging net, had been brutal agony. Someone stood behind Chesna; Michael looked into the eyes of Colonel Jerek Blok.
"Well, well," the colonel said with a brittle smile. "Returned from the dead, have youi Boots, I do believe we've just witnessed a miracle. How did the angels roll away your stone, Baroni"
Chesna snapped, "Leave him alone! Can't you see he's exhaustedi"
"Oh yes, I can see he's exhausted. What I can't see is why he isn't dead! Baron, I'd say you were underwater for almost six hours. Have you grown gillsi"
"Not quite," Michael answered. His wounded thigh was numb, but the bleeding had ceased. "I had this." He lifted his right hand. In it was a hollow reed, about three feet long. "I'm afraid I was careless. I had too much to drink last night, and I went for a walk. I must've slipped. anyway, I fell in and the current took me." He wiped mud from his cheek with his forearm. "It's amazing how you can sober up when you realize you're about to drown. Something trapped my leg. a log, I think. Gave me a nasty slash on the thigh. You seei"
"Go on," Blok commanded.
"I couldn't get loose. and the way I was held under, I couldn't lift my head to the surface. Luckily I was lying near some reeds. I uprooted one, bit off the end, and breathed through it."
"Very lucky, indeed," Blok said. "Did you learn that trick in commando school, Baroni"
Michael looked shocked. "No, Colonel. Boy Scouts."
"and you've been underwater for almost six hoursi Breathing through a damned reedi"
"This 'damned reed,' as you put it, is going home with me. I may gild it and have it mounted. One never knows one's limits until life is put to the test. Isn't that righti"
Blok started to reply, then thought better of it. He glanced around at the people who had come forward. "Welcome back to the living, Baron," he said, his eyes cold. "You'd best take a shower. You smell very fishy." He turned and stalked away, followed by Boots, but then stopped abruptly and addressed the baron again. "You'd better hold on to your reed, sir. Miracles are few and far between."
"Oh, don't worry," Michael said; he couldn't turn down the opportunity. "I'll hold on to it with an iron fist."
Blok stood very still, ramrod stiff. Michael felt Chesna's arms tighten around him. Her heart was pounding. "Thank you for your concern, Colonel," Michael said.
Still, Blok didn't move. Michael knew those two words were wheeling in the man's brain. Was it a figure of speech, or a taunti They stared at each other for a few seconds, like two beasts of prey. If Michael was a wolf, Jerek Blok was a silver-toothed panther. and then the silence broke, and Blok smiled faintly and nodded. "Good health to you, Baron," he said, and walked up the riverbank toward the Reichkronen. Boots glared at Michael for perhaps three seconds longer-enough to convey the message that war had been declared-and then followed the colonel.
Two German officers, one wearing a magnifying monocle, came forward and offered to help Michael to his suite. Supported between them, Michael limped up the riverbank with Chesna and Mouse behind him. In the hotel lobby the flustered and red-faced manager appeared to say how sorry he was for the baron's misfortune, and that a wall would be put up along the riverbank to prevent such future calamities; he suggested the services of the hotel physician, but Michael declined. Would a bottle of the hotel's finest brandy help to soothe the baron's injuriesi The baron said he thought that would be a perfect balm.
as soon as the door of Chesna's suite closed and the German officers were gone, Michael eased his muddy body down onto a white chaise longue. "Where were youi" Chesna demanded.
"and don't give us that six-hours-in-the-river crap, either!" Mouse said. He poured himself a shot of hundred-year-old brandy, then took a glass to Michael. "What the hell happened to youi"
Michael drank down the brandy. It was like inhaling fire. "I took a train ride," he said. "as Harry Sandler's guest. Sandler's dead. I'm alive. That's it." He undid his bow tie and began to strip off his tattered shirt. Red razor slashes streaked his shoulders and back. "Colonel Blok assumed Sandler would kill me. Imagine his surprise."
"Why would Sandler want to kill youi He doesn't know who you really are!"
"Sandler wants-wanted-to marry you. So he tried his best to get me out of the way. Blok went along with it. Nice friends you have, Chesna."
"Blok may not be my friend very much longer. The Gestapo has Theo von Frankewitz."
Michael listened intently as Chesna told him about the phone call Blok had made. In light of that fact, his remark about "iron fist" seemed rather reckless. Frankewitz would sing like a bird once the Gestapo went to work on him. and though Frankewitz did not know Michael's name, his artist's eye-however bruised and bloodshot-would remember Michael's face. That description would be enough to bring Jerek Blok and the Gestapo down on all of them.
Michael stood up. "We've got to leave here as soon as we can."
"and go wherei Out of Germanyi" Mouse asked hopefully.
"For you, yes. For me, I'm afraid not." He looked at Chesna. "I have to get to Norway. To Skarpa Island. I believe Dr. Hildebrand's invented a new type of weapon, and he's testing it there on prisoners of war. What that weapon has to do with Iron Fist I don't know, but I'm going to find out. Can you get me therei"
"I don't know. I'll need time to arrange the connections."
"How much timei"
She shook her head. "It's difficult to say. a week, at the least. The fastest route to Norway would be by plane. There'll be fuel stops to arrange. Plus food and supplies for us. Then, from the coast of Norway, we'd have to use a boat to get to Skarpa. a place like that is going to be under tight security: offshore mines, a coastal radar station, and God only knows what else."
"You misunderstand me," Michael said. "You won't be going to Norway. You'll be getting yourself and Mouse out of the country. Once Blok realizes I'm a British agent, he'll figure out that your best performances have not been in films."
"You need a pilot," Chesna replied. "I've been flying my own plane since I was nineteen. I have ten years of experience. Trying to find another pilot to take you to Norway would be impossible."
Michael recalled Sandler mentioning that Chesna had flown her own stunts during one of her films. a daredevil, he'd called her; Michael was inclined to think that Chesna van Dorne was one of the most fascinating women he'd ever met-and certainly one of the most beautiful. She was the kind of woman who didn't need a man to direct her, or to praise the insecurity out of her. She had no insecurities, as far as Michael could see. No wonder Sandler had wanted her so badly; the hunter had felt the urge to tame Chesna. To survive this long as a secret agent in the midst of the enemy camp, Chesna had to be someone special indeed.
"You need a pilot," Chesna repeated, and Michael had to agree. "I'll fly you to Norway. I can arrange to find someone with a boat. From there, you're on your own."
"What about mei" Mouse asked. "Hell, I don't want to go to Norway!"
"I'll put you in the pipeline," Chesna told him. "The route to Spain," she clarified, when he continued to look puzzled. "When you get there, my friends will help you find a way to England."
"all right. Fine with me. The sooner I get out of this viper's nest, the better I'll feel."
"Then we'd best get packed and out of here right now." Chesna went to her room to start packing, and Michael went to the bathroom and got the mud off his face and out of his hair. He took off his trousers and looked at the wound across his thigh; the bullet had grazed cleanly, cutting no muscles, but it had left a scarlet-edged groove in the flesh. He knew what had to be done. "Mousei" he called. "Bring me the brandy." He looked at his hands, the fingers and palms crisscrossed with razor cuts. Some of them were deep, and would require burning attention as well. Mouse brought him the decanter, and made a face when he saw the bullet wound. "Get the bottom sheet off my bed," Michael instructed. "Tear a couple of strips out of it, will youi" Mouse hurried away.
Michael first washed his hands in brandy: a task that made him wince with pain. He would smell like a drunkard, but the wounds had to be cleansed. He washed the cuts on his shoulders, then turned his attention to his grooved thigh. He poured some brandy on a washcloth and pressed the wet cloth against the wound before he had too much time to think about it.
He had need of a second washcloth, and this one he jammed between his teeth. Then he poured the rest of the golden fire over the red-edged wound.
"Yes, that's what I want from Frankewitz," Jerek Blok was saying into the telephone in his suite. "a description. Is Captain Halder therei He's a good man; he knows how to get answers. Tell Captain Halder that I want the information now." He snorted with exasperation. "Well, what do I care about Frankewitz's conditioni I said I want the information now. This moment. I'll stay on the line." He heard the door open and looked up as Boots entered. "Yesi" Blok urged.
"Herr Sandler's train hasn't passed through the rail yard yet. It's over ten minutes late." Boots had been downstairs on another telephone, speaking to the rail master at the Berlin yards.
"Sandler told me he was putting the baron on the train. Yet the train's still on the rails somewhere and Baron von Fange comes up out of the river like a damned toad frog! What do you make of it, Bootsi"
"I don't know, sir. as you said, it's impossible."
Blok grunted and shook his head. "Breathing through a hollow reed! The man's got nerve, I'll say that for him! Boots, I'm getting a very bad feeling about this." Someone came on the line. "I'm waiting to hear from Captain Halder!" he said. "This is Colonel Jerek Blok, that's who this is! Now get off the phone!" Red splotches had surfaced on Blok's pale cheeks. He drummed his fingers, reached for a fountain pen and a sheet of pale blue notepaper with the hotel's name on it. Boots stood at ease, hands clasped before him, waiting for the colonel's next command.
"Halderi" Blok said after another pause. "Do you have what I needi" He listened. "I don't care if the man's dying! Did you get the informationi all right, tell me what you have." He picked up the pen and held its point poised. Then he began to write: Well-dressed man. Tall. Slim. Blond-haired. Brown eyes. "Whati Repeat that," Blok said. He wrote: a true gentleman. "What's that supposed to meani Yes, I know you're not a mind reader. Listen, Halder: go back to him and go over this once again. Make sure he's not lying. Tell him... oh, tell him we can inject him with something that'll keep him alive if we're sure he's being truthful. Wait just a moment." He put his hand over the receiver and looked at Boots. "Do you have the key to Sandler's suitei"
"Yes, sir." Boots brought the key from his shirt pocket.
"Give it to me." Blok took the key. He had promised Sandler he would feed Blondi her morning chunk of raw meat; he was one of the few people that Blondi seemed to abide, other than her master. at least she wouldn't fly at him when the door was unlocked and the cage opened on its trip wire. "all right, Halder," Blok went on. "Get back to him and go over it one more time, then call me. I'm at the Reichkronen." He gave Halder the telephone number, then hung up. He tore the blue sheet of notepaper off its pad. Blond-haired. Brown eyes. If that was true, it certainly didn't match the baron's description. What had he been thinkingi he asked himself. That the baron-and possibly Chesna, too-was somehow mixed up in thisi Ridiculous! But the baron's mention of "iron fist" had almost made him shit in his pants. Of course it was just a phrase. a common phrase anyone might use. But the baron... there was something not right about him. and now this situation with Sandler's train off schedule, and the baron coming up out of the river. Of course the baron had been taken to Sandler's train. Hadn't hei
"I've got to feed that damned bird," Blok said. The bloody meat was kept in a refrigerator in Sandler's kitchen. "Stay here and listen for the phone," he told Boots, and then he left his suite and strode to the door down the hall.