The wolfs hour, p.22
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       The Wolfs Hour, p.22

         Part #1 of Michael Gallatin series by Robert McCammon
 
Part V - The Mouse Trap Chapter 1

 

  at six o'clock on the morning of March 29, Michael Gallatin dressed in a field-gray German uniform, with jackboots, a cap bearing a communications-company insignia, and the proper service medals-Norway, the Leningrad Front, and Stalingrad-on his chest. He shrugged into a field-gray overcoat. On his person were papers-an expert job had been done in acid aging the new photograph and yellowing the documentation, Michael noted-identifying him as an oberst-a colonel-in charge of coordinating the signal lines and relays between Paris and the units scattered along the coast of Normandy. He had been born in a village in southern austria called Braugdonau. He had a wife named Lana and two sons. His politics were adamantly pro-Hitler, and he was loyal to the Reich's service, if not necessarily in awe of Nazism. He had been wounded once, by a fragment of shrapnel from a grenade thrown by a Russian partisan in 1942, and he had the scar under his eye to prove it. Under his coat he wore a leather holster with a well-used but perfectly clean Luger in it, and two extra clips of bullets in his pocket, near his heart. He carried a silver Swiss pocket watch, engraved with figures of hunters shooting stags, and nothing-not even his socks-had a trace of British wool. The rest of what he needed to know was in his head: the roads in and out of Paris, the maze of streets around adam's apartment and the building where adam worked, and adam's nondescript, accountant's face. He had a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs with Pearly McCarren, washed down with strong black French coffee, and it was time to go.

  McCarren, a craggy mountain in a Black Watch kilt, and a young dark-haired Frenchman Pearly referred to as andre led Michael through a long, damp corridor. His jackboots, the footwear of a dead German officer, clattered on the stones. McCarren talked quietly as they went along the corridor, filling in last-minute details; the Scotsman's voice was nervous, and Michael listened intently but said nothing. The details were already in his head, and he was satisfied that everything was planned. From here on, it was a walk on the razor's edge.

  The silver pocket watch was an interesting invention. Two clicks on the winding stem popped open the false back, and inside was a little compartment that held a single gray capsule. The capsule was small to be so deadly, but cyanide was a potent and fast-acting poison. Michael had agreed to carry the poison capsule simply because it was one of the unwritten regulations of the secret service, but he never intended the Gestapo to take him alive. Still, his carrying it seemed to make McCarren feel better. actually, Michael and McCarren had become good companions in the last two days; McCarren was a tough poker player, and when he wasn't drilling Michael on the details of his new identity, he was winning hand after hand of five-card draw. Michael was disappointed in one thing, though; he hadn't seen Gaby today, and because McCarren hadn't mentioned her he assumed she had gone back to an assignment in the field. au revoir, he thought. and good luck to you.

  The Scotsman and the young French partisan led Michael up a set of stone steps, and into a small cave lit by green-shaded lamps. The illumination gleamed on a long, black, hard-topped Mercedes-Benz touring car. It was a beautiful machine, and Michael couldn't even tell where the bullet holes had been patched and repainted. "Fine machine, ehi" McCarren asked, reading Michael's mind as Michael ran a gloved hand across a fender. "The Germans know how to build 'em, that's for sure. Well, the bastards have got cogs and gears in their heads instead of brains anyway, so what can you expect. " He motioned toward the driver's seat, where a uniformed figure sat behind the wheel. "andre there's a good driver. He knows Paris about as well as anybody, seein' as he was born there. " He tapped on the glass, and the driver nodded and started the engine; it responded with a low, throaty growl. McCarren opened the rear door for Michael as the young Frenchman unlatched two doors that covered the cave entrance. The doors were thrown open, letting in a glare of morning sunlight, and then the young Frenchman began to quickly clear brush away from in front of the Mercedes.

  McCarren held out his hand, and Michael gripped it. "You take care of yourself, laddie," the Scotsman said. "Give 'em hell out there for the Black Watch, ehi"

  "Jawohl. " Michael eased into the backseat, a luxury of black leather, and the driver released the hand brake and drove through the cave entrance. as soon as the car was clear, the brush was put back into place, the green-and-brown-camouflage-painted doors were sealed, and it looked like a rugged hillside again. The Mercedes wound through a patch of dense woods, met a rutted country road, and turned left on it.

  Michael sniffed the air: leather and new paint, the faint whiff of gunpowder, engine oil, and an apple-wine fragrance. ah, yes, he thought, and smiled faintly. He looked out through a window, studying the blue sky full of lacy, billowing clouds. "Does McCarren knowi" he asked Gaby.

  She glanced at him in the rearview mirror. Her black hair was pinned up under her German staff driver's cap, and she wore a shapeless coat over her uniform. His gaze, that piercing glare of green, met hers. "No," she said. "He thinks I went back to the field last night. "

  "Why didn't youi"

  She thought about it for a moment as she jockeyed the car over a rough section of road. "My assignment was to get you where you want to go," she answered.

  "Your assignment ended when you got me to McCarren. "

  "Your interpretation. Not mine. "

  "McCarren had a driver for me. What happened to himi"

  Gaby shrugged. "He decided. . . the job was too dangerous. "

  "Do you know Parisi"

  "Well enough. What I didn't know I learned from the map. " another glance in the rearview mirror; his eyes were still on her. "I haven't spent all my life in the country. "

  "What'll the Germans think if we run into a roadblocki" he asked her. "1 imagine a beautiful girl driving a staff car isn't a common sight. "

  "Many of the officers have female drivers. " She concentrated her attention back on the road. "Either secretaries or mistresses. French girls, too. You'll get more respect with a female driver. "

  He wondered when she'd decided to do this. She certainly didn't need to; her part of the mission was over. Had it been the night of their chilly bathi Or later, as Michael and Gaby had shared a stale loaf of bread and some musky red winei Well, she was a professional; she knew what kind of dangers lay ahead, and what would happen to her if she were captured. He looked out the window, at the greening countryside, and wondered where her cyanide capsule was hidden.

  Gaby reached an intersection, where the rutted dirt road connected with a road of tarred gravel: the route to the City of Light. She turned right and passed a field where farmers stood baling hay. The Frenchmen stopped their work, leaning on their pitchforks as they watched the black German car glide past. Gaby was a good driver. She kept a constant speed, her gaze darting to the rear view mirror and then back to the road again. She was driving as if the German colonel in the backseat had somewhere to go, but was in no hurry to get there.

  "I'm not beautiful," she said quietly, about six or seven minutes later.

  Michael smiled behind his gloved hand, and he settled back into his seat to enjoy the journey.

  They went on in silence, the Mercedes's engine a polite, well-oiled purr. Gaby glanced back at him occasionally, trying to figure out what it was about him that had made her want to-no, no, need to be with him. Yes, that ought to be admitted. Not to him, of course, but in the chapel of secrets. It was most probably, she reasoned, that the action against the Nazi tank had fired her blood and passions in a way she hadn't been flamed in a long while. Oh, there had been other cinders, but this was a bonfire. It was just the nearness of a man who craved action, she thought. a man who was good at his job. a man. . . who was good. She hadn't lived so long to be a poor judge of character; the man in the backseat was special. Something about him was cruel and. . . beastly, perhaps. That was part of the nature of his occupation. But she'd seen kindness in his eyes, there in the chilly water. a sense of grace, a purpose. He was a gentleman, she thought, if there we
re indeed any of those left on this earth. anyway, he needed her help. She could get him in and out of Paris, and that was the important thing. Wasn't iti

  She glanced in the sideview mirror, and her heart stuttered.

  Coming up behind them, very quickly, was a German BMW motorcycle and sidecar.

  Her hands tightened on the wheel, and the motion made the Mercedes swerve slightly.

  Michael sat upright with the jerk of the car, and caught the high whine of the motorcycle's engine: a familiar noise, last heard in the desert of North africa. "Behind us," Gaby said tautly, but Michael had already glanced back and seen the vehicle overtaking them. His hand went to the Luger. No, not yet, he decided. Stay calm.

  Gaby didn't slow down, nor did she speed up. She kept her speed steady, an admirable accomplishment when her pulse was beating so fast. She could see the tinted goggles of the helmeted driver and the sidecar's passenger. They seemed to be fixed on her with murderous intent. On the floorboard at her feet was a loaded Luger. She could pick it up and fire out the window in an instant, if need be.

  Michael said, "Keep driving. " He settled back in his seat again, waiting.

  The motorcycle and sidecar pulled up behind them, perhaps six feet from their bumper. Gaby looked in the rearview mirror and saw the sidecar's passenger motioning them over. "They're telling us to pull off," she said. "Shall Ii"

  Michael paused only a few seconds. "Yes. " If it wasn't the right decision, he'd know very soon.

  Gaby slowed the Mercedes. The motorcycle and sidecar slowed as well. Then Gaby pulled the heavy car off the road, and the motorcycle came abreast with them before its driver cut the engine. Michael said, "Say nothing," and furiously rolled down his window. The sidecar's passenger, a lieutenant from the markings on his dusty uniform, was already pulling his long legs out of the vehicle and standing up. Michael stuck his head out the rolled-down window and shouted in German, "What the hell are you trying to do, you idioti Run us off the roadi"

  The lieutenant froze. "No, sir. I'm sorry, sir," the man babbled as he recognized a colonel's insignia.

  "Well, don't just stand there! What do you wanti" Michael's hand rested on the Luger's grip.

  "I apologize, sir. Heil Hitler. " He made a weak Nazi salute that Michael didn't even bother to return. "Where are you going, siri"

  "Who wants to knowi Lieutenant, are you wishing a tour with a ditch-digging battalioni"

  "No, sir!" The young man's face was gaunt and chalky under a mask of dust. The dark goggles gave his eyes a bulging, insectlike appearance. "I'm sorry to interrupt you, sir, but I thought it my duty-"

  "Your dutyi To whati act like an assi" Michael was looking for guns. The young lieutenant didn't have a holster. His weapon was probably in the sidecar. The motorcycle's driver had no visible weapon, either. So much the better.

  "No, sir. " The young man trembled a bit, and Michael felt a little pang of pity for him. "To warn you that there were air attacks on the road to amiens before dawn. I didn't know if you'd heard or not. "

  "I've heard," Michael said, deciding to chance it.

  "They got a few supply trucks. Nothing vital," the young lieutenant went on. "But the word's out: with this weather so clear, there are bound to be more air attacks. Your car. . . well, it's very shiny, sir. a very nice target. "

  "Shall I throw mud on iti Or pig shiti" He kept his tone icy.

  "No, sir. I don't mean to be out of line, sir, but. . . those american fighter planes. . . they swoop down very fast. "

  Michael stared at him for a moment. The young man stood rigid, like a commoner in the presence of royalty. The boy couldn't be more than twenty years old, Michael figured. Damn bastards were robbing the cradles now for their cannon fodder. He removed his hand from the Luger. "Yes, you're right, of course. I appreciate your concern, Lieutenant. . . i" He let it hang.

  "Krabell, sir!" the young man-so close to death, without knowing it-said proudly.

  "Thank you, Lieutenant Krabell. I'll remember the name. " It would wind up scrawled on a wooden cross, stuck on a mound of French earth after the invasion swept through, he thought.

  "Yes, sir. Good day, sir. " The young man saluted again-the salute of a puppet-then returned to his sidecar. The motorcycle driver started the engine, and the vehicle pulled away. "Wait," Michael said to Gaby. He let the motorcycle get out of sight, and then he touched Gaby's shoulder. "all right, let's go. "

  She started off again, driving at the same steady speed, frequently checking not only the mirrors but also the sky for a hint of silver that would be diving upon them, machine guns blazing. The allied fighters commonly strafed the roads, supply dumps, and any troops they could find; on a clear day such as this, it was reasonable to believe the fighters were prowling for targets-including shiny black German staff cars. Tension knotted her stomach and made her feel slightly sick. They swept past a group of hay wagons, farmers at work, and saw the first sign that pointed to Paris. about four miles east of that sign they came around a curve and found themselves confronted with a roadblock.

  "Easy," Michael said quietly. "Don't slow down too soon. " He saw perhaps eight or nine soldiers with rifles and a couple of security officers with machine guns. again, his hand was on the Luger. He rolled down his window once more and prepared to act indignant.

  His acting wasn't necessary. The two security officers looked at his insignia and the sleek black car and were sufficiently impressed; even more so when they looked at Gaby behind the wheel. a formality, the man in charge said with an apologetic shrug of his shoulders. Of course the colonel knew about the partisan activity in this sector. What could be done about it except to exterminate the ratsi If we might see your papers, the security man said, we'll check you through as quickly as possible. Michael grumbled about being delayed for a meeting in Paris and handed his papers over. The two security men looked at them, more as a demonstration that they were doing something than with true attention. If those men worked for the allies, Michael thought, I'd have them thrown in prison. Perhaps thirty seconds elapsed, and then the papers were returned to him with crisp salutes and he and the pretty friulein were bidden a good journey to Paris. Gaby drove on as the soldiers moved the wooden barricades aside, and Michael heard her release the breath she'd been holding.

  "They're looking for someone," Michael said when they'd gotten away from the roadblock, "but they don't know who. They figure whoever parachuted in might want to get to Paris, so they've got their watchdogs out. If they're all like those two, they might escort us to adam's door. "

  "I wouldn't count on that. " Gaby again checked the sky; no trace of silver. Yet. The road was clear, too, the countryside slightly rolling and dotted with apple orchards and stands of hardwood trees. Napoleon's country, she thought idly. Her heart wasn't beating so hard now; getting through the roadblock had been a lot easier then she'd expected. "What about adami" she asked. "What do you think it is he's trying to get outi"

  "I haven't thought. "

  "Oh yes you have. " Their eyes met in the mirror. "I'm sure you've thought about it quite a bit, just as I have. Yesi"

  This line of conversation was indelicate, and both of them knew it. Shared knowledge was shared pain, if they landed in the hands of the Gestapo. But Gaby was waiting for an answer, and Michael said, "Yes. " That alone wouldn't do; Gaby was silent, still waiting. He folded his gloved hands together. "I think adam's found something he obviously feels is important enough to risk a lot of lives to get out. My superior thinks so, too, or I wouldn't be here. and needless to say, your uncle wouldn't be dead. " He saw her flinch just a fraction; she was tough, but not iron-cased. "adam's a professional. He knows his business. He also knows that some information is worth dying for, if it means winning this war. Or losing it. Movements of troops and supply convoys we can get anytime, by the radio codes from a dozen agents all over France. This is something that only adam knows about, and that the Gestapo's clamped the lid on. Which mean
s it's a hell of a lot more important than the usual messages we get. Or at least adam thinks it is, or he wouldn't be calling for help. "

  "What about youi" Gaby asked. He lifted his eyebrows, not understanding. "What would you die fori" Gaby glanced at him again in the mirror, then quickly away.

  "I hope I won't have to find out. " He gave her a hint of a smile, but the question had lodged inside him like a thorn. He was prepared to die for the mission, yes; that was already understood. But that was the reaction of a trained machine, not a man. What, as a man-or half man, half animal-was he prepared to lay down his life fori The human-woven net of politicsi Some narrow vision of freedomi Lovei Triumphi He explored the question, and found no easy answer.

  and suddenly his nerves let go of their chill alarms and he heard Gaby say softly, "Oh," because there in front of them on the long straight route to Paris was a roadblock with a dozen armed soldiers, an armored car with a cannon-snout showing, and a black Citrien that could only be a Gestapo vehicle.

  a soldier with a submachine gun was waving them down. all faces turned toward them. a man in a dark hat and a long beige overcoat stepped into the road, waiting. Gaby hit the brakes, a little too hard. "Steady," Michael said, and as the Mercedes slowed he peeled off his gloves.

 
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