His first impression upon awakening was of green and golden light: the sun, shining through dense foliage. He thought of the forest of his youth, the kingdom of Wiktor and the family. But that was long ago, and Michael Gallatin lay not on a pallet of hay but on a bed of white linen. The ceiling above him was white, the walls pale green. He heard the song of robins and turned his head toward a window on his right. He could see a network of interlocking tree branches and slices of blue sky between them.
His mind, even with all the beauty, found the emaciated corpses in the mass grave. That was the kind of thing that, once viewed, opened your eyes forever to the reality of human evil. He wanted to weep, to cleanse himself of that sight, but his eyes wouldn't let the tears go. Why weep when the tortures were already donei No, the time for tears had passed. It was time now for cold reflection, and a gathering of strength.
His body hurt like hell. Even his brain felt bruised. He lifted up the sheet and saw he was still naked. His flesh resembled a patchwork quilt, rendered in shades of black and blue. His wounded thigh had been stitched up and painted with iodine. Various other cuts and punctures on his body-including the stab wounds inflicted by Blok's dinner fork-had been treated with disinfectant. The kennel filth had been scrubbed off him, and Michael figured that whoever had done the job was deserving of a medal. He touched his hair and found that it had been washed, too; his scalp stung, probably from an astringent lice-killing shampoo. His beard had been shaved off, but there was a fresh rough stubble on his face that made him wonder how long he'd lain in an exhausted slumber.
One thing he knew for certain: he was famished. He could see the slats of his ribs, and his arms and legs had gotten thin, the muscles wasted. On a small table beside his bed there was a silver bell. Michael picked it up and rang it to see what would happen.
In less than ten seconds the door flew open. Chesna van Dorne came in, her face radiant and scrubbed of its commando charcoal, her tawny eyes bright, and her hair in golden curls around her shoulders. She was a beautiful vision, Michael thought. He was hardly distracted by her shapeless gray jumpsuit and the Walther pistol in its holster around her waist. Following behind her was a gray-haired man with horn-rimmed glasses, dressed in dark blue trousers and a white shirt with his sleeves rolled up. He carried a black medical bag, which he set on the table beside the bed and unsnapped.
"How are you feelingi" Chesna asked, standing by the door. Her expression was one of businesslike concern.
"alive. Barely." His voice was a husky whisper. Speaking was an effort. He tried to sit up, but the man-obviously a doctor-pressed his hand against his chest and eased him back down, which was about as difficult as restraining a sickly child.
"This is Dr. Stronberg," Chesna explained. "He's been taking care of you."
"and testing the limits of medical science at the same time, I might add." Stronberg had a voice like gravel in a cement mixer. He sat on the edge of the bed, produced a stethoscope from his bag, and listened to the patient's heartbeat. "Breathe deeply." Michael did. "again. Once more. Now hold your breath. Let it out slowly." He grunted and took the instrument's ear cups out. "You're wheezing a bit. Low-grade infection in the lungs, I think." a thermometer slid under Michael's tongue. "You're fortunate you keep yourself in such good condition. Otherwise twelve days in Falkenhausen on bread and water might have left you with much worse than exhaustion and congested lungs."
"Twelve daysi" Michael said, and reached for the thermometer.
Stronberg grasped his wrist and pushed it aside. "Leave that alone. Yes, twelve days. Of course you have other ailments as well: a mild case of shock, a broken nose, a severely bruised shoulder, a bruise on your back from a blow that almost ruptured your kidneys, and your thigh wound was close to contracting gangrene. Lucky for you, it was caught in time. I had to clip some tissue, though; you won't be using that leg for a while."
My God! Michael thought, and he shivered at the idea of losing his leg to a knife and bone saw.
"There's been blood in your urine," Stronberg went on, "but I don't think your kidneys are permanently damaged. I had to insert a catheter and drain off some fluid." He removed the thermometer and checked its reading. "Low fever," he said. "at least you've cooled off since yesterday."
"How long have I been herei"
"Three days," Chesna said. "Dr. Stronberg wanted you to rest."
Michael could taste bitterness in his mouth. Drugs, he thought. antibiotic and tranquilizer, most likely. The doctor was already preparing another syringe. "No more of that," Michael said.
"Don't be an idiot." Stronberg grasped his arm. "Your system's been exposed to such filth and germs you're fortunate you don't have typhus, diphtheria, and bubonic plague." He jabbed the needle in.
There wasn't much he could do about it. "Who cleaned mei"
"I hosed you down, if that's what you mean," Chesna told him.
She shrugged. "I didn't want you infecting my people."
"They did a fine job. I'm indebted." He remembered the smell of blood on the forest trail. "Who got hiti"
"Eisner. He took a bullet through the hand." She frowned. "Wait a minute. How did you know anyone was hiti"
Michael hesitated. How indeedi he thought. "I... didn't know, for certain," he said. "a lot of bullets were flying."
"Yes." Chesna was watching him carefully. "We're lucky we didn't lose anyone. Now maybe you can tell me why you refused to come out with Bauman, and then wandered into camp more than eight miles from Falkenhausen. What did you do, run that distancei and how did you find usi"
"Lazaris," Michael said, stalling while he thought up a good answer. "My friend. Is he all righti"
Chesna nodded. "He brought an army of lice with him. We had to shave him bald, but he said he'd kill anyone who touched his beard. He's in even worse shape than you, but he'll live." She raised her blond brows. "You were about to tell me how you found usi"
Michael remembered hearing Chesna and Bauman arguing that night as they came out of the tent. "I think I went a little crazy," he explained. "I went after Major Krolle. I don't recall much of what happened."
"Did you kill himi"
"He... was taken care of," Michael said.
"I took Krolle's motorcycle. That's how I got through the gate. a bullet must've punctured the gas tank, because I only got a few miles before the engine stopped. Then I started walking through the woods. I saw your flashlights, and I came in." Flimsy as hell, he thought, but that's all he could come up with.
Chesna was silent for a moment, staring at him. Then she said, "We had a man watching the road. He saw no motorcycle."
"I didn't use the road. I went through the forest."
"and you just happened to find our campi In all the woodsi You stumbled onto our camp when none of the Nazis could track us downi"
"I guess I did. I got there, didn't Ii" He smiled wanly. "Call it destiny."
"I think," Chesna said, "that you've been breathing through another hollow reed." She came a little closer to the bed as Stronberg prepared a second injection. "If I didn't know you were on our side, Baron, I might have grave misgivings about you. To beat Harry Sandler at his own game is one thing; to travel, in your condition, over eight miles through the forest at night and find our camp-which was very well hidden, I might add-is something quite different."
"I'm good at what I do. That's why I'm here." He winced as the second needle broke the skin.
She shook her head. "No one is that good, Baron. There's something about you... something very strange."
"Well, we can debate this all day, if you like." He let feigned exasperation creep into his voice. Chesna's eyes were sharp, and they saw his evasion. "Have you got the plane readyi"
"It's ready, whenever I want it." She decided to let this matter go, for now. But this man was hiding something, and she wanted to know what it was.
"Good. When can we leavei"
"There'll be no traveling for you," Stronberg said firmly. He snapped his bag closed. "Not for two weeks, at least. Your body's been starved and brutalized. a normal man, one without your commando training, would be a basket case by now."
"Doctor," Michael said, "thank you for your attention and care. Now would you please leavei"
"He's right," Chesna added. "You're too weak to go anywhere. as far as you're concerned, the mission is over."
"Is that why you got me outi To tell me I'm an invalidi"
"No. To keep you from spilling your guts. Since you were imprisoned, Colonel Blok has closed down the Reichkronen. From what I hear, he's been questioning all the employees and going over their records. He's having the place searched room by room. We got you out of Falkenhausen because Bauman let us know Blok was about to start torturing you the following morning. Four more hours and a catheter would have been an impossibility."
"Oh. I see." In that light the loss of a leg was a minor inconvenience.
Dr. Stronberg was about to retreat to the door. But he paused and said, "That's an interesting birthmark you have. I've never seen anything quite like it."
"Birthmarki" Michael asked. "What birthmarki"
Stronberg looked puzzled. "Under your left arm, of course."
Michael lifted his arm, and had a shock of surprise. From the armpit to his hip were streaks of sleek, black hair. Wolf hair, he realized. With all the stress to his mind and body, he had not fully changed back since leaving Falkenhausen.
"Fascinating," Stronberg said. He leaned closer to look at the streaks. "That's one for a dermatologist's journal."
"I'm sure it is." Michael lowered his arm and clasped it to his side.
Stronberg walked past Chesna to the door. "We'll start you on solids tomorrow. Some meat with your broth."
"I don't want any damned broth. I want a steak. Very rare."
"Your stomach's not ready for that," Stronberg said, and he left the room.
"What day is thisi" Michael asked Chesna after the doctor had gone. "The datei"
"May seventh." Chesna walked to a window and peered out at the forest, her face washed with afternoon light. "In answer to your next question, we're in the house of a friend, about forty miles northwest of Berlin. The nearest village is a small hamlet called Rossow, eleven miles to the west. So we're safe here, and you can rest easy."
"I don't want to rest. I've got a mission to finish." Even as he said it, he felt whatever Stronberg had given him beginning to work. His tongue was numb, and he was getting drowsy again.
"We received a radio code from London four days ago." Chesna turned from the window to look at him. "The invasion's been scheduled for the fifth of June. I've radioed back the message that our assignment is incomplete, and that the invasion may be in jeopardy. I'm still waiting for a reply."
"I think I know what Iron Fist is," Michael said, and he began to tell her about his Flying Fortress theory. She listened intently, with no evidence that she agreed or disagreed: a poker face. "I don't think the plane's hangared in Norway," he told her, "because that's too far from the invasion beaches. But Hildebrand knows where the plane is. We've got to get to Skarpa..." His vision was fogging up, the taste of medicine thick in his mouth, "... and find out what Hildebrand's developed."
"You can't go anywhere. Not in the shape you're in. It would be better if I chose a team myself and flew them up."
"No! Listen to me... your friends may be good at breaking into a prison camp... but Skarpa's going to be a hell of a lot tougher. You need a professional for the job."
"Right. I can be ready to go in six days."
"Dr. Stronberg said two weeks."
"I don't give a damn what he said!" He felt a flush of anger. "Stronberg doesn't know me. I can be ready in six days... providing I get some meat."
Chesna smiled faintly. "I believe you're serious."
"I am. and no more tranquilizers or whatever it is that Stronberg's stuck into me. Understandi"
She paused, thinking it over. Then: "I'll tell him."
"One more thing. Have you... thought about the possibility that... we may run into fighter planes between here and Skarpai"
"Yes. I'm willing to take that risk."
"If you get shot, I don't care to... go down in flames. You'll need a copilot. Do you have onei"
Chesna shook her head.
"Talk to Lazaris," Michael said. "You might... find him very interesting."
"That beasti He's a flieri"
"Just talk to him." Michael's eyelids were getting heavy. It was hard to fight against the twilight. Better to rest, he thought. Rest, and fight again tomorrow.
Chesna stayed beside the bed until he was asleep. Her face softened, and she reached out to touch his hair but he shifted his position and she pulled her hand back. When she'd realized he and Mouse had been captured, she'd almost gone crazy with worry, and not because she feared he would spill secrets. Seeing him emerge from the forest-filthy and mottled with bruises, his face hollowed by hunger and the ordeal of captivity-had almost made her faint. But how had he tracked them through the woodsi Howi
Who are youi she mentally asked the sleeping man. Lazaris had inquired how his friend "Gallatinov" was doing. Was the man British, or Russiani Or some other, more arcane nationalityi Even in his drained condition, he was a handsome man-but there was something lonely about him. Something lost. all her life, she'd been brought up on the taste of silver spoons; this was a man who knew the taste of dirt. There was a cardinal rule in the secret service; do not become emotionally involved. To break that rule might lead to untold suffering and death. But she was tired-so very tired-of being an actress. and living life without emotion was like playing a part for the critics instead of the audience: there was no joy in it, only stagecraft.
The baron-Gallatinov, or whatever his name might be-shivered in his sleep. She saw the flesh of his arms rise in goose bumps. She remembered washing him, not with a hose but with a scrub brush as he lay unconscious in a tub of warm water. She had scrubbed the lice from his scalp, his chest, beneath his arms, and in his pubic hair. She had shaved him and washed his hair, and she had done all that because no one else would. That was her job, but her job did not require that her heart ache as she'd cleaned the grime from the lines in his face.
Chesna pulled the sheet up around his neck. His eyes opened-a glint of green-but the drugs were strong, and he went under again. She wished him a good sleep, beyond this world of nightmares, and closed the door quietly when she left.