The gruel bucket was brought again, marking Michael's tenth day of captivity. The guards retched at the odor of the corpses and slammed the kennel door as soon as they could. Sometime later Michael was drifting in the twilight of sleep when he heard the latch sliding back. The door opened again. Two guards with rifles stood in the corridor, and one of them pressed a handkerchief over his mouth and nose and said, "Bring the dead men out."
Lazaris and the others hesitated, waiting to see if Michael would comply. a third figure peered into the kennel and shone a flashlight on Michael's pallid face. "Come on, hurry!" Bauman ordered. "We haven't got all night!"
Michael heard the tension in Bauman's voice. What was going oni Bauman slid his Luger out of his holster and pointed it into the kennel. "I won't say it again. Out."
Michael and Lazaris grasped Metzger's bony corpse and hauled it out of the kennel while the Dane and the German brought the second corpse out. Michael's knees groaned when he stood up, and the Dane fell to the stones and lay there until a rifle barrel prodded him up. "all right," Bauman said. "all of you, march."
They carried the corpses along the corridor. "Halt!" Bauman ordered when they reached a metal door. One of the guards unbolted it and pushed it open.
Michael knew that however old he lived to be, he would never forget that moment. Fresh, cool air drifted in through the doorway; maybe there was a trace of burning flesh in it, but it was sweet perfume compared to the kennel's stale rankness. The camp was quiet, midnight stars afire in the sky. a truck was parked outside, and Bauman directed the prisoners to it with their baggage of corpses. "Get them inside!" he said, tension still thick in his voice. "Hurry!"
The back of the truck was already loaded with over a dozen naked bodies, male and female. It was difficult to tell, because all the corpses had shaved heads, and the breasts of the females had flattened like dead flowers. The flies were very bad. "Come on, move!" Bauman said, and shoved Michael forward.
and then Bauman turned, with the grace of a motion he'd played out a hundred times in his mind in preparation for this moment. The knife slid down into his left hand from the inside of his sleeve, and he took a step toward the nearest guard, plunging the blade into the man's heart. The guard cried out and staggered back, scarlet spreading over his uniform. The second guard said, "What in the name of-"
Bauman stabbed him in the stomach, pulled the blade out and stabbed again. The first guard had crumpled to his knees, his face bleached, and he was trying to get his pistol out of his holster. Michael let go of Metzger's corpse and grabbed the man's wrist as the pistol came out. He smashed his fist into the man's face, but the guard's finger twitched on the trigger and the gun went off, startlingly loud in the silence. The bullet fired into the sky. Michael hit him again, as hard as he could, and as the guard crumpled he took the pistol away.
The Nazi who was grappling with Bauman shouted, "Help me! Someone, help-"
Bauman shot him through the mouth, and the man pitched backward into the dust.
In the distance dogs were barking. Dobermans, Michael thought. "You!" Bauman pointed at Lazaris, who stood staring in shock. "Get that rifle! Go on, you fool!"
Lazaris scooped it up. and aimed it at Bauman. Michael pushed the barrel aside. "No," he said. "He's on our side."
"I'll be damned! What's going oni"
"Stop that jabbering!" Bauman slid the bloody knife into his belt. He glanced at the luminous hands of his wristwatch. "We've got three minutes to reach the gate! Get in the truck, all of you!" Michael heard a shrill whistle blowing somewhere: an alarm signal.
The Dane scrambled into the back, over the corpses. Lazaris did the same, but the German prisoner fell to his knees and began to sob and moan. "Leave him!" Bauman said, and motioned Michael into the truck cab. Bauman got behind the wheel, turned the ignition key, and the engine sputtered and rumbled to life. He drove away from the stone building full of kennels, and toward Falkenhausen's front gate, dust pluming behind the rear tires. "Those shots will stir up a hornet's nest. Hang on." He swerved the truck between two wooden buildings and pressed his foot on the accelerator. Michael saw the chimneys to their left, spouting red sparks as more bodies were charred. and then three soldiers, one of them with a submachine gun, stood in the path of their headlights, waving the truck down. "We're going through," Bauman said tersely.
The guards leaped aside, shouting for the truck to halt. More whistles began to shriek. a burst of bullets whacked into the rear of the truck, making the steering wheel shudder in Bauman's grip. Rifle fire cracked: Lazaris was at work. Searchlights on towers in this section of the huge camp began to come on, their beams sweeping back and forth along the dirt roads and across the buildings. Bauman checked his watch again. "It should start to happen in a few seconds."
Before Michael could ask what he meant, there was a hollow boom to their right. another blast followed almost immediately, this time behind them and on the left. a third explosion was so close Michael could see the gout of fire. "Our friends brought mortars to create a diversion," Bauman said. "They're firing them from the woods." another series of blasts echoed over the camp. Michael heard scattered rifle fire. The guards were firing at shadows, maybe even at each other. He hoped they, in this instance, had true aim.
a searchlight's glaring white beam found them. Bauman cursed and swerved the truck onto another road to get away from the light, but it stuck close. a high, piercing steam whistle began: the camp's emergency alarm. "Now Krolle's in the act," Bauman said, his knuckles white on the wheel. "Those bastards on the towers have radios. They're pinpointing our posi-"
a guard stepped into the road ahead of them, planted his feet, and pulled back the bolt on his Schmeisser.
Michael saw the weapon fire in a low, sweeping arc. The two front tires exploded almost in unison, and the truck lurched as the engine and radiator were pierced. The guard, still firing, dove for cover as the truck careened past him in a storm of dust, and the front fender scraped sparks off a stone wall before Bauman could get control again. The windshield was cracked, and filmed with oil. Bauman kept driving, his head out the window and the flattened front tires plowing grooves in the road. about fifty yards farther and the engine made a noise like tin cans in a grinder, then died. "That's it for the truck!" Bauman was already throwing his door open. The truck halted, right in the middle of the road, and Michael and the German scrambled out. "Come on!" Bauman shouted to Lazaris and the Dane. They clambered out from the corpses, looking corpselike themselves. "The gate's this way, about a hundred yards!" Bauman motioned ahead and started running. Michael, his naked body shivering with the effort, kept a few strides behind. Lazaris stumbled, fell, got up, and followed on spindly legs. "Wait! Please wait for me!" the Dane shouted as he lagged behind. Michael looked back, just as a searchlight hit the Dane. "Keep going!" Bauman yelled. The next sound was machine-gun fire, and the Dane was silent.
"Bastards! You filthy bastards!" Lazaris stopped in the road and aimed his rifle as the light swung upon him. Bullets marched across the ground in front of him as Lazaris squeezed off shot after shot. Glass exploded, and the light went out.
Bauman suddenly pulled up short, face-to-face with three guards who'd emerged from between two barracks buildings. "It's me! Fritz Bauman!" he shouted before they could lift their weapons. Michael hit the ground on his stomach. "The prisoners are rioting in Section E!" Bauman shouted. "They're tearing the place apart! For God's sake, get over there!" The soldiers ran on, and disappeared around the corner of another barracks. Then Bauman and Michael continued toward the gate, and as they came out from a cluster of wooden buildings there it was in front of them, across a dangerous area of open ground. The tower searchlights were aimed into the camp, sweeping back and forth. Mortar shells were still exploding in the center of Falkenhausen. "Down!" Bauman told Michael, and they lay on the ground against the wall of one of the wooden buildings as a searchlight crept past. He checked his watch once more. "Damn, it! They're late! Where the hell are theyi"
a figure started to stumble past them. Michael reached out, grasped the man's ankles, and tripped him into the dust before a searchlight caught him. Lazaris said, "What are you trying to do, you bastardi Break my necki"
a motorcycle with a sidecar suddenly roared across the open ground, and its driver skidded to a stop in front of a green-painted building near the gate. almost at once a door opened and out rushed a stocky figure wearing combat boots, a Nazi helmet, and a red silk robe, two pistols in the holster around his thick waist. Major Krolle, awakened from his beauty sleep, wedged himself into the sidecar and motioned for the driver to go. Dust spat from the motorcycle's rear tire as the driver obeyed, and Michael realized Krolle was going to pass within a few feet of their position. Bauman was already lifting his pistol. Michael said, "No," and reached for Lazaris's rifle. He stood up, his mind aflame with the image of hair drifting into a pinewood box, and as the motorcycle got within range he stepped out from the wall's protection and swung the rifle like a club.
as the rifle connected with the driver's skull and broke the man's neck like a stick of kindling, Falkenhausen's main gate exploded in a blast of flame and a whirlwind of burning timbers.
The concussion knocked Michael to the ground, and passed in a hot wave. The driverless motorcycle veered sharply to the left, spun in a circle, and crashed against a wooden wall before Krolle even knew he was in danger. The motorcycle pitched over on its side, the engine still running, and Krolle flopped out of the sidecar, his helmet knocked off and his ears ringing from the blast.
From the ruins of the gate emerged a camouflage-painted truck with armor shields protecting the tires. as it roared into the camp, the brown canvas covering its cargo bay was whipped back, exposing a.50-caliber machine gun on a swivel mounting. The machine gunner angled his weapon up and shot the nearest searchlight out, then turned its fire on the next one. Three other men in the rear of the truck aimed rifles at the tower guards and began to shoot. "Let's go!" Bauman yelled, getting to his feet. Michael was on his haunches, watching Krolle struggling to get up; the holster had slipped down and tangled around his legs. Michael said, "Take my friend and get to the truck." He stood up.
"Whati are you crazyi They're here for you!"
"Do it." Michael saw the rifle on the ground, its butt broken off. Krolle was whimpering, trying to pull one of the Lugers from its holster. "Don't wait for me." He walked to Major Krolle, grabbed the holster, and flung it away. Krolle gasped, blood running from a gash across his forehead and his eyes dazed. "Go!" Michael shouted to Bauman, and he and the Russian ran toward the truck.
Krolle moaned, finally recognizing the man who stood before him. There was a whistle around Krolle's thick neck, and he put it to his mouth but he didn't have wind enough to blow.
Michael heard the clatter of bullets against armor plate. He looked back and saw that Lazaris and Bauman had reached the truck and climbed inside. The machine gunner was still firing at the tower guards, but now slugs were striking the truck as well. More soldiers were coming, alerted by the blast and blaze. a rifle bullet ricocheted off one of the truck's tire shields, and the machine gunner swiveled his weapon and shot down the soldier who'd fired it. The kitchen was heating up; it was time to get out. The truck was put into reverse, and withdrew through the flame-edged aperture where the gate had been.
at his feet, Krolle was trying to crawl away. "Help me," he croaked. "Someone..." But he could not be heard over the shouts and the firing of guns and the wailing emergency siren, a sound that must've reached Berlin. Michael said, "Majori" and the man looked at him. Krolle's face distorted into a rictus of sheer horror.
Michael's mouth was opening, the muscles rippling in his jaws. Making room for the fangs that slid, dripping saliva, from their sockets. Dark bands of hair rose over the naked flesh, and his fingers and toes began to hook into claws.
Krolle scrambled up, slipped, got up again with a strangled yelp and ran. Not toward the gate, because the monstrous figure blocked his way, but in the opposite direction, into the depths of Falkenhausen. Michael, his spine contorting and his joints cracking, followed like the shadow of death.
The major fell to his knees beside a barracks and tried to get his bulk into the crawl space beneath. Failing that, he struggled up once more and staggered on, calling for help in a voice that did not carry. a wooden building was on fire perhaps three hundred yards away, hit by a mortar shell. Its red light capered in the sky. The searchlights were still probing, their paths interweaving, and guards shot at each other in the confusion.
There was no confusion in the mind of the wolf. He knew his task, and he would relish this one.
Krolle looked back over his shoulder and saw the thing's green eyes. He gave a bleat of fear, his robe dusty and undone, and his well-fed, white belly hanging out. He kept running, trying to call for help between gasps of air. He dared to look again and saw the monster gaining on him with a steady, powerful loping stride-and then Krolle's ankles hit a low pinewood barrier, and with a scream he pitched over it and slid facedown a steep dirt incline.
Michael leaped nimbly across the barricade-set there to keep trucks from tumbling over-and stood on the edge of the incline, peering at what lay before him. In his wolf's body his heart hammered with a fearsome rhythm as he saw the beast's banquet laid out at the bottom of the pit.
How many corpses were strewn there was impossible to say. Three thousandi Five thousandi He didn't know. The steep-walled pit was about fifty yards from side to side, and the naked dead lay tangled in obscene, bony piles, thrown one on top of another so deep that he couldn't see the pit's floor. In that gray, hideous, unfathomable mass of rib cages, emaciated arms and legs, bald skulls and hollowed eyes, one figure in a red robe struggled toward the pit's opposite side, crawling across the bridges of decaying flesh.
Michael held his position on the edge, his claws gripping the soft dirt. The firelight leaped, painting the huge mass grave with hell's radiance. His mind was numbed; there was so much death. Reality seemed warped, a bad dream from which he must surely soon awaken. This was the fingerprint of true evil, beyond which all fictions paled.
Michael lifted his head to heaven, and screamed.
It came out as a hoarse, ragged wolf's wail. In the pit Krolle heard it, and looked back. Sweat glistened on his face, flies swarming around him. "Stay away from me!" he shouted to the monster on the pit's edge. His voice cracked, and madness broke through. "Stay away from-"
a corpse shifted beneath him with a noise like a whisper. Its movement caused other bodies to part, and Krolle lost his balance. He clawed at a broken shoulder, trying to grip a pair of legs with his sweaty hands, but flesh rippled under his fingers and he went down amid the dead. The corpses rose and fell like sea waves, and Krolle thrashed to stay at the surface. He opened his mouth to scream; flies rushed into it, and were sucked down his throat. Flies blinded him, and winnowed into his ears. He clawed at rotting flesh, his boots finding no purchase. His head went under, corpses shifting around him like waking sleepers. Taken one by one, the bodies weighed about as much as the shovels that had pitched them down here; together, in their twisted linkage of arms and legs, they closed over Krolle's head and crushed him down into the suffocating depths. He was borne to the bottom, where a slender arm hooked around his throat and flies struggled in his windpipe.
Krolle was gone. The corpses kept shifting, all across the pit, making room for another. Michael, his green eyes burning with tears of horror, turned away from the dead, and ran toward the living.
He scared the yellow piss out of two Dobermans that were being held on leashes by their masters, and then he streaked past them and across the open ground near where the wrecked motorcycle lay. a truckful of soldiers was about to drive through the broken gate, in pursuit of the rescue team. Michael changed their plans by leaping up over the truck's tailgate into the rear, and the soldiers yelled and jumped out as if they'd grown wings. The driver, intimidated by the sight of a thin and obviously hungry wolf snapping at his face on the other side of the windshield, immediately lost control and the truck slammed into Falkenhausen's stone wall.
But the wolf was no longer perched on the hood. Michael bounded through the blown-open gate, and out into freedom. He cut across the dirt road and entered the forest, his nose sniffing. Engine oil, gunpowder, and... ah, yes... the rank odor of a Russian fighter pilot.
He kept to the brush on the road's edge, following the scents. The smell of blood: someone had been wounded. about a mile away from Falkenhausen the truck had turned off the main road onto one that was little more than a... well, than a wolf's trail. The rescue team had been prepared; what looked-and smelled-like a second truck had come out of this trail and roared away to leave tire treads for the pursuers, while the original vehicle had entered the dense forest. Michael followed Lazaris's reek, through the silent sylvan glades.
He followed the twisting trail for almost eight miles, and then he heard the voices and saw the glint of flashlights. He crouched amid the pines and watched. In a clearing before him, shielded from aerial observation by a camouflage net overhead, were the armored truck and two civilian cars. Workers were dismantling the truck, rapidly removing the armor and taking the machine gun off its mount. at the same time others were hurriedly painting the truck white with a Red Cross on the cab doors. The cargo-bay area was being transformed into an ambulance, with tiers of stretcher beds. The machine gun was wrapped in burlap, put into a wooden box lined with rubber, lowered into a trench. Then shovels went to work, covering the weapon.
a tent had been set up, and from it protruded a radio antenna. Michael was flattered. They'd gone to a hell of a lot of effort for him, not to mention risking their lives.
"I tried to get him to come, damn it!" Bauman suddenly walked out of the tent. "I think he went crazy! How was I to know he was about to snapi"
"You should have made him come! God only knows what they'll do to him now!" a second figure stalked out, following Bauman. Michael knew that voice, and when he sniffed the air he caught her fragrance: cinnamon and leather. Chesna wore a black jumpsuit, a holster and pistol around her waist, her blond hair hidden beneath a black cap and her face daubed with charcoal. "all this work, and he's still in there! and instead of him, you bring this thing!" She motioned angrily at Lazaris, who emerged from the tent placidly chewing on a biscuit. "My God, what are we going to doi"
a wolf could smile, in its own way.
Two minutes later a sentry heard a twig snap. He froze, questing for movement in the dark. Was there someone standing by that pine tree, or noti He lifted his rifle. "Halt. Who's therei"
"a friend," Michael said. He dropped the twig he'd just broken and came out with his hands upraised. The sight of a naked, bruised man emerging from the forest made the sentry shout, "Hey! Someone come over here! Hurry!"
"What's all that damned noise!" Chesna said as she, Bauman, and a couple of others rushed to the sentry's assistance. Flashlights were turned on, and they caught Michael Gallatin in their crossfire.
Chesna stopped abruptly, the breath shocked out of her.
Bauman whispered, "How the hell..."
"No time for formalities." Michael's voice was raspy and weak. The change, and the eight-mile run, had tapped the last of his reserves. already the figures around him were blurring in and out of focus. He could let himself go now. He was free. "I'm... about to pass out," he said. "I hope... someone will... catch mei" His knees buckled.